Words by Nigel Williamson
Against all odds: a comeback record from Malian superstar
Given her status as the queen of the Mande griots, it comes as a shock to realise that this is only Kandia’s third proper solo album in a career dating back 40 years. A superstar in Mali, whose forte was always the live recital, for years her only recordings were semi-authorised local cassette releases. Producer Ibrahima Sylla finally coaxed her into a professional studio for the first time in 1999 to record Kita Kan. It was followed by 2002’s Biriko but in 2004 she suffered a stroke and for seven years was barely able to speak, let alone sing. Eventually in 2011 Sylla persuaded her it was time to return. But in 2013, halfway through the recording of her comeback album, the producer died, leaving his daughter Binetou to complete the project.
Despite these adversities, Renascence is a magnificently defiant return that fully justifies the boldness of its title. Kandia literally had to re-learn how to sing but the majestic contralto voice is still potent – deeper and somewhat darker than before – on a set of songs predominantly in the traditional Mande praise style. Traditional percussion and stringed instruments – balafon, ngoni, djembé and kora – are tastefully augmented by electric guitar and the subtle, synthesised string orchestrations of François Bréant.