Words by Nigel Williamson
You want ngoni lutes? We got ngoni lutes
The Germany-based Membran is the new home of Christian Scholze’s ground-breaking Network label, which did so much to put African music on the map in the 1980s and 90s. Taking their name from a traditional rhythm from the Mopti region, the nine-piece Gambari Band were formed by exiles from Bassekou Kouyaté’s Ngoni ba group – and it’s the sound of the ngoni (lute) that’s at the core here. Oumar Barou Kouyaté takes the solos but he’s supported by two further ngoni players, creating a glorious mesh of fiercely plucked and snapping strings.
Recorded at Bamako’s Studio Bogolan over six days in late 2012, the Seattle-based producer Mell Dettmer has captured a set of stellar performances – earthy and graceful, full of uplifting harmonies and explosive polyrhythms. Only the vocals of the two female lead singers, Kankou and Massaran Kouyaté were overdubbed, giving the disc the energy and urgency of a live recording. If you’re ever in Bamako, they’re regulars at the Hotel Maya. Failing that, hopefully there’s an adventurous promoter who might bring them to Europe…