Words by Nigel Williamson
Perhaps it was recording 2012’s Brothers in Bamako with the American bluesman Eric Bibb that persuaded Habib Koité it was time for a change; but for whatever the reason, after more than 20 years and half a dozen albums backed by his band Bamada, only bassist Abdul Berthe remains on Soô. It’s more than a simple change of personnel, too. He’s dropped the drum kit in favour of calabash and djembé and added a banjo to the line-up – an instrument that he was introduced to by Bibb. The result is a lilting set sung in his smooth baritone voice in Malinké, Bamana and Dogon, mixing different Malian traditions and addressing many of the problems currently facing his country. T
he context of the gently melancholic ‘Dêmê’, with its message about living together in peace could not be clearer, given Mali’s recent history. ‘Need You’ is about forced marriage; ‘Khafole,’ despite its gorgeous lullaby-like melody, is a tragic song about a mother grieving for her dead son. The closer, ‘Diadjiry’, a song about war and its horrors made famous by Fanta Damba, is played as a sparkling solo guitar piece and reminds us that Habib is one of Africa’s most accomplished instrumentalists. The changes have done Habib no end of good.