Posts Tagged ‘kasse mady diabate’

The 50 Greatest World Music Albums of the Last Five Years

Posted on August 23rd, 2015 in Features, Recent posts by .


Every year, editor Jo Frost and editor-in-chief Simon Broughton choose their favourite albums from the previous 12 months. This list of 50 recordings represent their selections from the last five years, beginning with 2014…




(Real World)

There’s something highly addictive about the rhythmic Garifuna sound. I’ve been a fan of this distinctive Central American music since first hearing the Belizean artist Andy Palacio. Aurelio has, since Palacio’s death, firmly established himself as an ambassador for Garifuna culture. His latest album is rooted in the paranda and punta musical traditions, and its title – meaning ‘Landing’ – refers to when the British forced the Garifuna people into exile in the 18th century. Many of the songs are instilled with a sense of melancholy, yet ultimately Lándini is a celebration and homage to the richness of Garifuna culture. JF


aziza-brahim-soutakAziza Brahim



Born and raised in an Algerian refugee camp, the young Saharawi singer has become a champion for her people from the occupied state of Western Sahara. There’s a simplicity in the acoustic musical arrangements, combined with the poignancy of Brahim’s soulful singing that lend a grace and dignity to these songs about resistance, freedom, longing and homeland. They have a political resonance too, especially the song ‘Gdeim Izik’ about the protest camp taken down by the Moroccans. It’s a spare and powerful tribute to a land and sorrowful plight of its people, sadly overlooked by the outside world. JF




Kassé Mady Diabaté


(No Format!)

Kassé Mady Diabaté is one of the great vocalists of Mali, accompanied here by a top group of instrumentalists. There’s Makan ‘Badjé’ Tounkara on ngoni, Lansiné Kouyaté on balafon and Ballaké Sissoko on kora, plus Vincent Segal on cello, who is also responsible for the exquisite production. There are just eight tracks – many of them connected to hunting – and it really feels like you’re sitting right there among the musicians. All the instruments are heard on just one track, ‘Sori’, but the whole album is intimate, powerful and gorgeously recorded. SB See also: Top 25 Mali Albums



Toumani & Sidiki Diabaté

Toumani & Sidiki


Expectations were high for this record, but it delivers. According to Toumani, the family have been making music in West Africa for 700 years and what we have here is the transmission of that tradition in action. Toumani plays kora duets with his 23-year-old son Sidiki, named afer his grandfather who established the kora as a solo instrument. It’s an elaborate concoction of gourd, cow skin, sticks and 21 strings that represents Malian music at its most sophisticated. The filigree music is sublime and Lucy Durán’s notes are enlightening. SB See also: Top 25 Mali Albums



Piers Faccini & Vincent Segal

Songs of Time Lost

(No Format!)

Like many of the label’s releases, this is a beautifully crafted album of song, guitar and cello. Faccini is an English singer-songwriter with a gorgeously languid singing style. He sounds at times like Nick Drake, but he also sings in Italian on a couple of traditional Neopolitan songs and in Creole on a maloya-inspired track from La Réunion. The two have been good friends since the 80s, which possibly explains the ease and naturalness of their partnership. Faccini’s voice floats dreamily above the deep resonance of Segal’s cello that acts as the bedrock to the whole sound. JF



The Gloaming

The Gloaming

(Real World)

This new collective evocatively known as The Gloaming revisit traditional Irish music but with a fearless sense of experimentation. The haunting vocals of Iarla Ó Lionáird combine with the effortless fiddle of Martin Hayes, eerie Hardanger fiddle of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and solid guitar of Dennis Cahill. Then there’s the piano playing of Thomas Bartlett that takes the sound onto a whole other level, out of the trad box and placing it firmly into a new, exciting realm. The ‘Opening Set’ is a wondrous 16-minute-plus tune that slowly builds in intensity – it goes down a storm at their fantastic live shows. JF




Kronos Quartet

A Thousand Thoughts


Celebrating their 40th anniversary, Kronos Quartet have released an album that clearly demonstrates how widely they’ve ranged in their inspiration. There are a few tracks (with Astor Piazzolla and Asha Bhosle) that have been previously released, but most of the material is new. Alongside music from Vietnam, Afghanistan, Turkey, Ethiopia and the American South, it includes an eerie version of the rebetika track ‘Smyrneiko Minore’ by Greek singer Marika Papagika, which Harrington describes as containing his “favourite note of all time.” SB



Driss El Maloumi


(Contre Jour)

Moroccan oud player Driss El Maloumi stands out both for his instrumental mastery (he’s director of the conservatoire in Agadir) and for his innovative approach – for instance the 3MA project with kora player Ballaké Sissoko and valiha player Rajery in 2008. This trio album with two percussionists – his brother Said El Maloumi (on frame drum and Iranian tombak) and Lahoucine Baquir (on frame drum and darbouka) ranges from the bluesy ‘Imtidad’ and the filigree ‘Tawazoun’ to the playful ‘Intidar’. There’s lyricism, virtuosity and imagination – plus a couple of songs too. SB



Robert Plant

Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar


The ex-Led Zep frontman is no stranger to dabbling in African sounds. What makes this album so refreshing is that there is nothing tokenistic about the contributions from his band members. Intrinsic to the album is the rasping, raw sound of the ritti (one-stringed violin) and kologo (lute) from Gambia’s Juldeh Camara together with Justin Adams, who plays guitar, ngoni and basically anything else he can lay his hands on. Add drummer Dave Smith, bassist Billy Fuller, guitarist Liam Tyson and keyboardist John Baggott and the end product is a powerful collaborative effort. JF





Tamburocket Hungarian Fireworks

(Riverboat Records)

We’ve been champions of this Hungarian group since their brilliant collaboration with Gypsy sax player Ferus Mustafov in 2008. Söndörgő’s sound is light, springy and delicately plucked. They play the virtuoso tambura music of Hungary’s Serbian and Croatian communities and, as they’ve proved in recent concerts at WOMEX and in London, they do it with style. This album includes vibrant examples of their core repertoire, plus interesting takes on Macedonian music. The band are three brothers and a cousin, plus Attila Buzás on bass tambura. SB

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Top 25 Mali Albums

Posted on June 18th, 2015 in Features, News, Recent posts by .


Mali remains a wellspring of great music and culture. After much deliberation, we are proud to present the top 25 albums to come from Mali, reminding us that there is an endless amount to celebrate in its music. By Nigel Williamson, Simon Broughton and Matt Milton. 


No 25

25 Afriki

Habib Koité & Bamada

Afriki (Cumbancha, 2007)

Listening to this album is like having an old friend coming to visit, with plenty of great tales to tell and smiles for all. It brims with all those comforting things that set Habib Koité, the gentle giant of Malian music, apart from most of his contemporaries. The husky voice, catchy choruses, trickling guitar patterns and clever jigsaw of Mali’s myriad musical traditions are all there. There are touches of desert blues, with ngoni lute and even an eerie chorus of hunters’ antelope horns softly caressing the clever arrangement of ‘Nta Dima’, lifting it to a rare level of musical bliss.


No 24

24 kasse

Kasse Mady Diabaté

Kassi Kasse (EMI Hemisphere, 2003)

Kasse Mady Diabaté went back to his griot roots on this all-acoustic album, steeped in Mande folklore. Recorded via a mobile studio in his village of Kela, the instrumental backdrop is near perfect, thanks to Bassekou Kouyaté on the ngoni, Daramane Coulibaly on flute and Cuban bassist Orlando ‘Cachaito’ López. Yet they are all really only there to provide a context for Kasse Mady’s extraordinary voice. As far back as his days with National Badema du Mali it was clear he was one of the few Malian singers to rival Salif Keita. But he has never sung as movingly as he does here.


No 23

23 terakaft


Aratan N Azawad (World Village, 2011)

Guitarists Kedou Ag Ossad and Diara were both original members of the Touareg band Tinariwen, but Terakaft are far more than a mere spin-off. Their two guitars weave in and out of each other, complementing the simple vocals and brisk handclaps, sounding much more ponderous and contemplative than their desert blues brethren. Aratan N Azawad was Terakaft’s second studio album, and it hears the band at their most mellow and relaxed. It has much of the atmosphere of classic country rock, albeit with riffs and vocals that are unmistakably West African in their trance-inducing power.


No 22

22 boubacar

Boubacar Traoré

Mali Denhou (Lusafrica, 2011)

Now in his 70s, Mali’s pre-eminent surviving bluesman is heard here on a superbly atmospheric set. His funky, acoustic guitar picking is backed by calabash and some magnificently intense blues harmonica from Frenchman Vincent Bucher, who plays on all but one of the tracks. Not so much an accompanist as a duetting partner, Bucher’s moodily wailing harmonica echoes Boubacar’s soulful voice in traditional call-andresponse style. But although the blues is the dominant strain, it’s not the only string to Boubacar’s bow and several Mande folk tunes here offer a charmingly playful contrast of styles.


No 21

21 biriko

Kandia Kouyaté

Biriko (Sterns, 2002)

Kandia Kouyaté is one of the great female vocalists of Mali – and it’s a country with no shortage of competition. Hailing from one of the leading Mande griot families, Kandia produced a compelling acoustic work that conjures up images of the mighty Malian empire in its 13th-century prime. Mahamane Diabaté’s balafon ripples through the album like a stream, while the wailing sax of Nicolas Gueret adds a contemporary touch. The closing track, ‘Kadabila’ (Stop Fighting), is an impassioned call for peace. Produced by Ibrahim Sylla, this is West African music at its most sublime.


No 20

20 the secret

Vieux Farka Touré

The Secret (Six Degrees, 2011)

On this album, Vieux Farka Touré forges his own identity as both a guitarist and a mature songwriter. The opening number, ‘Sokosondou’, is a swirling mesh of guitars and call-and-response vocals; as confident a statement of intent as you could get. But it’s the title-track that invariably garnered the most attention. Its central motif was recorded by Vieux’s legendary father, Ali Farka, shortly before he died. It has that quintessential desert blues feel, with father and son’s guitars entwining around each other while a flute occasionally breaks the surface. On this album, the guitar is benevolent king rather than repressive dictator.


No 19

19 mali music

Various Artists

Mali Music (Honest Jon’s, 2002)

Damon Albarn has long been a champion of Malian music and musicians. On Mali Music he pulled together the singer and guitarist Afel Bocoum, legendary kora player Toumani Diabaté and Ko Kan Ko Sata, one of the few women to play the kamalengoni, among others. The opening track is pure Damon Albarn, presumably to avoid scaring off the indie fans, but the rest of the album expertly combines the traditional instruments, chants and riffs of Mali with electronica and heavy dub. It works a treat. The stylish, highly individual balafon playing of Neba Solo is one particular revelation.


No 18

18 Mali koura

Issa Bagayogo

Mali Koura (Six Degrees, 2008)

Having taken a four-year break from recording, it would have been easy for Issa to make a conservative, safe all-acoustic album. Instead he stuck to his guns, mixing traditional Malian instrumentation with electronica. An Issa Bagayogo kamalengoni riff is as instantly recognisable as a Keith Richards guitar lick in the way it motors along like a clockwork toy. There’s a jazzy feel to tracks such as ‘Tcheni Tchemakan’, with layered horns, delicate piano and Issa’s sensitive crooning. It’s the juxtaposition of these ‘sophisticated’ European elements with the buzz and clang of the kamalengoni and the polyrhythmic clatter of percussion that makes this album so compelling.


No 17

17 at peace

Ballaké Sissoko

At Peace (No Format, 2013)

Ballaké Sissoko is kora royalty. The three exquisite solo tracks here have a delicacy and depth that reinforces the idea that solo kora music is one of the classical forms of African music. The percussive balafon, played by Fassery Diabaté, and the long bowed lines of Vincent Segal’s cello really add to the palette on a track like ‘Kalata Diata’. A welcome curiosity is the Brazilian forró song, ‘Asa Branca’ by Luiz Gonzaga, which takes on a whole new life with Ballaké’s kora ornamentations of the melody. This is an album that will delight you with its artistry and integrity.


No 16

16 tartit


Abacabok (Crammed Discs, 2008)

Tartit, one of the great desert bands of northern Mali, is dominated by the hypnotic, chanting vocal lines of Fadimata Walett Oumar and her four female companions. They sit down to sing, playing on tinde hand drums backed up by bluesy guitars, the dry tehardent lute or the gently wailing imzad (the one-stringed gourd violin) from the male band members. Passages of call-andresponse singing are urged on by handclapping and bursts of jubilant ululations from the women. Their off-kilter juggernaut rhythms are extraordinarily powerful: this is acoustic desert music that rivals dubstep or even death metal for its heaviness.


No 15

15 fatou

Fatoumata Diawara

Fatou (World Circuit, 2011)

Born in the Ivory Coast but raised in Bamako, Fatoumata Diawara draws on the hunters’ rhythms of her ancestral Wassoulou tradition. There are shades of her mentor Oumou Sangaré, for whom she sang backing vocals, and of her close friend Rokia Traoré. But Fatoumata has a style and feel all her own. The zingingly tuneful ‘Sowa’ threads effortlessly into the slippery, Congolese-guitar-led ‘Bakonoba’. The less-ismore production enhances the sparse, acoustic-guitardriven arrangements with a subtle touch of Fender Rhodes piano here, a plinking ngoni there. The sultry grace with which she stretches out over the Wassoulou-flavoured ‘Kele’ insinuates its way into your heart.


No 14

14 sahel

Sidi Touré

Sahel Folk (Thrill Jockey, 2011)

A raw and grainy all-acoustic essay in the Songhai blues, Sahel Folk was recorded in the town of Gao on the River Niger by the desert’s edge. Fourteen years had elapsed between Sidi’s first solo album and this wonderful follow-up. The songs are presented in a live field-recording style, exactly as they should be – the guitars, voices and hand-clapping are unadorned by studio trickery. Several tracks are hewn from the deep seam of desert blues that Ali Farka Touré worked. Elsewhere the loping rhythms evoke an unplugged Tinariwen. But Sidi is his own man, with his own unique take on the traditional folk music of northern Mali.


No 13

13 festival

Various Artists

The Festival in the Desert (Independent Records, 2003)

The Festival in the Desert, organised by the Touareg near Timbuktu, was one of the first casualties of the Islamist intervention in 2012. It had already moved from its remote Essakane site to the outskirts of Timbuktu in 2010 for security reasons. This live recording was made in Essakane in 2003 and the late Charlie Gillett described it as ‘one of the best live albums ever made’. It includes Malian stars Tinariwen, Ali Farka Touré and Oumou Sangaré, some great lesser-known bands and western artists Robert Plant, Justin Adams, Lo’Jo and pianist Ludovico Einaudi. You can just sense the space and feel the hour-glass sand beneath your feet.


No 12

12 timbuktu

Khaira Arby

Timbuktu Tarab (Clermont Music, 2010)

What makes Khaira’s music so exciting is the brilliant mixture of the traditional and the modern. The opening song, ‘Goumou’, about an Islamic festival, is permeated by the soft sounds of ngoni and desert fiddle while ‘Khaira’, about her own mission to spread joy through music, is driven by the electric guitar of Abdramane Touré. His flamboyant, distorted guitar sound is integral to the sound of Khaira’s band. Born to Songhai and Berber parents, Khaira has written several songs on the album about the different ethnic groups of the north of Mali, and ‘Tarab’ is about trying to build a homeland. She is a defining voice of Mali, in complete control.


No 11

11 ancient

Toumani Diabaté & Ballaké Sissoko

New Ancient Strings (Hannibal, 1999)

The gentle sound of the kora is one of the great pleasures of life. You can let the intricate plucking and subtly shifting rhythms wash over you, or you can focus in on the complex interlocking patterns. Toumani and Ballaké are Mali’s leading players from two of the most important griot families and this album, produced by Lucy Durán, was an act of homage to the duo album Ancient Strings recorded by their fathers, Sidiki Diabaté and Djelimady Sissoko, in 1970. Most of the pieces on New Ancient Strings are kora evergreens – this is quite simply one of the greatest kora albums there is.


No 10

10 Moffou

Salif Keita

Moffou (Universal, 2002)

Along with Ali Farka Touré, Salif Keita was the artist that first brought Malian music to worldwide attention in the late 80s. His Paris-produced Soro (1986) thrilled audiences with its mix of Malian instruments and electronics and Salif’s incantatory vocals. It still stands up well today, but the pick of Salif’s dozen solo albums is surely Moffou, the ‘return to roots’ album he produced when he returned to Bamako around the turn of the millennium. The album includes a couple of beautiful intimate numbers, just Salif and guitar, some Afro-funk with female backing vocals and the delightful ‘Yamore’, a duet with Cape Verde’s Cesaria Evora.


No 9

9 Oumou

Oumou Sangaré

Oumou (World Circuit, 2003)

While Oumou contained some previously released material – great in itself – it was the eight new tracks, from an album that was released only in Mali, that made the headlines. These rank among the best she has ever made. The bluesy ‘Ne Bi Fe’, a love song composed on the spot in the studio, is an atmospheric tour de force. ‘Laban’ is equally good, a densely textured mesh of traditional instruments and strings, topped with a mesmerising vocal. The moving ‘Magnoumako’, about Oumou’s mother, is another winner, while ‘Djorolen’ sounds like a slowed-down, heavily Africanised version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living for the City’. They proved that West Africa’s number one diva was very much back in business.


No 8

8 Savane

Ali Farka Touré

Savane (World Circuit, 2006)

As deep as the unearthly recordings of Robert Johnson or early Muddy Waters, this swansong from Africa’s greatest guitarist was steeped in the purity of the blues. Yet it was also an album of wonderfully contrasting sounds and textures. Somehow Ali made the tenor sax of former James Brown sideman Pee Wee Ellis and the reggae lilt of the title-track sound like they were coming home to their African source, while his own playing tapped into a rich and unfathomably ancient spirit. Saving the best until last, Ali left us Savane as a fitting finale to his magisterial career.


No 7

7 Jama Ko

Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni ba

Jama Ko (Out Here, 2012)

This is a thrilling, urgent mix of African blues, rock and funk, with Bassekou’s electrified, banjo-like ngoni cranked up to the max. The pulsating turbulence of Jama Ko reflected the political turmoil in which he recorded his third album, with music banned by the Islamist factions who had taken control of northern Mali. Several songs seethe with anger and frustration at what was happening, tinged with a deep sadness. Others pay tribute to the hard-pressed peoples of the desert and guest vocalists, including Khaira Arby and Kasse Mady Diabaté, lend their support. Out of Mali’s desperate plight, Bassekou created his finest hour.


No 6

6 The Mande Variations

Toumani Diabaté

The Mande Variations (World Circuit, 2008)

If the title was intended to echo Bach’s Goldberg Variations, it was a well-chosen analogy, for a baroque grace and elegance fills these extended instrumental compositions for solo kora. The effect is meditative, and yet there is a subtle rhythmic complexity, too, which underpins the music’s intricate, dignified counterpoint. Instead of sounding austere, the effect is voluptuous as Toumani’s kora weaves endlessly varying contours of melody, harmony and groove. That a solo instrument recorded without overdubs can sound so lush and layered remains miraculous. A heroic record by a maestro musician, who is justifiably dubbed ‘the Ravi Shankar of the kora.’


No 5

5 Aman Iman


Aman Iman (Independiente, 2007)

On Tinariwen’s third album, everything comes together with so much more bite and urgency than on their previous recordings. Producer Justin Adams must take a good share of the credit. There’s an epic weight to the sound, the voices sounding commanding as well as spaced out by all that Saharan sun. The powerful opening track, ‘Cler Achel’, is a statement of intent: the song explodes every time the chorus of female vocals kicks in, a joyous response to the more nonchalant but no less potent singing of Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Tinariwen’s founder member. There’s a decisive thrust to the rhythms and a real dirtiness to those squirming electric guitar lines. The intensity never lets up; on ‘Matadjem Yinmixan’, Alhabib’s chiming lead guitar sounds like a West African counterpart to the exploratory rock soloing of Richard Lloyd of Television or Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Indeed, this album is a real treat for guitar fans: the ghost of Jimi Hendrix is summoned via the wonderfully surly wah-wah-pedal of the brooding ‘Assouf’. The slow-burning ‘Ahimana’ has a wonderfully throaty vocal from long-standing member Japonais, and a groove possessing all the purpose of a ritual. But the album has its tender moments too. The all-acoustic ‘Ikyardagh Dim’ has the feel of a deep-desert nocturnal jams and shows the band at its most bluesy: if you have ever wondered why the words ‘desert blues’ are routinely trotted out to describe the music of the Sahel, this will leave you in no doubt.


No 4

4 Tchamantché

Rokia Traoré

Tchamantché (Nonesuch, 2008)

As beautiful, striking and unadorned as the shaven-headed picture on its cover, Rokia’s fourth album confirmed her as Africa’s boldest and most experimental diva. On 2003’s Bowmboï she had collaborated on several tracks with the Kronos Quartet, but the follow-up was different again. Boasting a trembling introspection, masterful understatement and graceful arrangements unlike almost anything else in Malian music, it’s a record built around the resonant but subtle thrum of her Gretsch guitar, her bluesy lines underpinned by classical western harp and African ngoni to create an elegantly baroque and sculpted setting, hauntingly spare and with the scrape of every string heard in pin-dropping clarity. Yet for all the instrumental deftness, Tchamantché is primarily a showcase for Rokia’s quietly compelling voice, an instrument that on stage can wail with the best but here is used with a more personal and nuanced sensibility. That said, the emotional range of her singing is impressive. From yearning vibrato to smouldering solemnity, sometimes feathered and breathy and sometimes more rousing and assertive, there’s an intensity and genuine sense of gravitas as she sings in Bamana, French and, in one conspicuous case, accented English on a gorgeous version of Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’. Rokia’s cosmopolitan upbringing (her father was a diplomat so she spent much of her childhood travelling outside Mali) has gifted her a perspective that combines both African tradition and Western modernity, and nowhere is the duality more potently realised than on Tchamantché, which won her the Best Artist category in the first Songlines Music Awards in 2009.


No 3

3 Dimanche à Bamako

Amadou & Mariam

Dimanche à Bamako (Because, 2004)

By the time Dimanche à Bamako was released in 2004, the blind Malian couple Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia had been playing together for 20 years. International success came after they moved to Paris in the late 90s, and three fine albums of distinctive Afro-blues followed to establish them as one of West Africa’s best-selling acts. But what made Dimanche à Bamako a career highlight was the presence of the mercurial Manu Chao as producer. The result was the duo’s most diverse and joyous album, a thrilling mix of Amadou’s deep blues guitar, Mariam’s wailing vocals and Chao’s unique global Gypsy touches. Chao contributed several tunes, including the effervescent ‘Taxi Bamako’ and the global mash of ‘Sénégal Fast Food’. His trademark kinetic energy is in ample evidence and the cop-car sirens, the seamless segues, the ambient street sounds and the eclectic instrumentation could all have come from a Manu Chao record. But this was no takeover bid – Dimanche à Bamako is very much an Amadou & Mariam record, which Chao merely enhanced by sprinkling over it a little of his technicolor magic dust. ‘Coulibaly’ layers African harmonies and bluesy guitar over a swirling rhythm of clattering percussion, Amadou’s magisterial ‘La Réalité’ drives relentlessly and on ‘Camions Sauvages’ Mariam even flirts deliciously with rap. The duo has since collaborated with numerous other Western musicians from Damon Albarn to the Scissor Sisters. But none has matched the joie de vivre that Chao brought to this set.


No 2

2 Belle Epoque

Rail Band

Belle Epoque Vol 2: Mansa (Sterns, 2008)

Listening to this overview of their early years, from 1970 to 1983, it’s amazing how the Rail Band seemed to stand at the crossroads of so much African music from the whole continent. Perhaps it was because they were very much a blue-collar band who had to entertain many different audiences: they were railway employees, based for years at the station hotel in Bamako. On the one hand there are lilting, tropical influences, with audible elements of calypso and Latin mambo: the warm, generous harmonies of the Mory Kanté-led ‘Balakononifing’ are like immersing yourself into a warm sea. But then ‘Dugu Kamaleba’ and ‘Finza’ are both rolling quasi-Afro-beat, with a nod to Fela Kuti in the soulful organ work. ‘Dioula’ has shades of the music of Ethiopia’s golden age, while the later ‘Konowale’ showcases the Congolese influences of the band’s guitar genius Djelimady Tounkara. The compilation’s title-track is like some lost roots reggae classic, with its irresistible groove, Jamaican-sounding horns and intense guitar playing. The unusual plinks and plonks in the background clearly had an influence on Manu Chao. The Rail Band was an instrumental powerhouse, but it’s also fascinating to hear the contrast between the group’s successive lead vocalists, several of whom would go on to become legends with international careers. So we can compare the tones of the young Salif Keita with the wailing, often androgynous vocals of Mory Kanté, the more piercing-sounding Djelimady Sissoko and the Rail Band’s other vocalist, Magan Ganessy, who has a more conversational and relaxed style of delivery. This is a snapshot of one band but it could almost be the musical map of a country.


No 1

1 Ali and Toumani

Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté

Ali and Toumani (World Circuit, 2010)

It should come as little surprise that our list is topped by the sublime collaboration between the two most significant names in Malian music over the past quarter of a century. The individual recordings of both Toumani Diabaté and Ali Farka Touré feature high in the upper echelons of our list. But together they proved to be an unbeatable combination at number one. Had they not made this second recording together, the accolade might easily have gone to their first collaboration, 2005’s Grammy-winning collaboration In the Heart of the Moon. Toumani himself hesitates to claim that the second album is a better record than its predecessor. Instead he describes it as ‘stronger and wiser,’ so let us settle for that. By the time the album was recorded in 2005, Ali was already ill with cancer and knew that he was dying. In the Heart of the Moon had been recorded the previous year at Bamako’s Hotel Mande, a romantic location on the banks of the Niger River. The follow-up was recorded over the course of three afternoons in the somewhat more prosaic surroundings of a North London studio and proved that their stringed magic transcended location and required no special circumstances beyond their own mutual inspiration. The diversity and intensity of the musical fantasia the two maestros fashioned together is breathtaking, with Toumani playing in seemingly bolder fashion than on their previous collaboration, as if he knew it was his final opportunity to work with one of Africa’s musical giants. Ali’s playing, too, is imbued with a profound soulfulness, as if he was determined to pour all the sagacity of a lifetime into what he knew would be his final recording. The intuitive understanding between them dips deep into the well of Mali’s rich and vibrant musical history. The elegant ‘Ruby’ opens the album, Toumani’s fluid kora arpeggios spilling rapturously over Ali’s pulse-like guitar. ‘Sabu Yerkoy’ is sprightlier, with a gentle vocal from Ali underpinned by a simple, joyous bass line from Cuba’s Cachaito López, who also passed away not long after these recordings. ‘Warbé’, ‘Samba Geladio’ and ‘Machengoidi’ are deep excursions into the desert blues. ‘Bé Mankan’ is full of classical grace and poise, while ‘Doudou’ is more playful. ‘Fantasy’ is a lullaby of exquisite sweetness, while the closer ‘Kala Djula’ is perhaps the album’s most enchanting tune. At the very end of the record, Ali’s voice says simply ‘Eh, voilà.’ It’s a poignant farewell, as if he’s telling us that he’s done his utmost and there’s nothing left to say. He lost his battle against cancer nine months after the recording and the album was not released until 2010, three years after his death in March 2007. As a summit meeting between West Africa’s two mightiest musical masters, it’s a collaboration of virtuosic perfection and understanding, a master class in which the two friends spur, inspire and encourage each other to a creative pinnacle of monumental elevation. ‘Eh, voilà’ indeed.

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Album Review | Top Of The World | Kassé Mady Diabaté – Kiriké

Posted on November 25th, 2014 in Recent posts, Reviews by .


Words by Nigel Willamson. Photography by Sebastien Rieussec.

kasseA Kassé classic

Over his long,career, Kassé Mady has been part of the fusion projects Songhai and Afrocubism, he has sung with Toumani Diabaté’s Symmetric Orchestra and he’s made electric dance albums – 1989’s Fode rivalled Salif Keita’s Soro as a masterpiece of the genre. But he’s perhaps at his best in a traditional acoustic setting, singing the Mande griot songs of his ancestors. Kiriké sets the velvet tones of his deep, resonant voice against a magnificent backing from Ballaké Sissoko’s kora, Lansine Kouyaté’s balafon and Badjé Tounkara’s ngoni.

The contrast between the deceptive simplicity of the instrumentation and the virtuosic complexity of its interplay is emphasised by the masterful production of Vincent Segal, who allows us to hear the pluck and scrape of every note but keeps Kassé Mady’s voice to the fore, even when he lowers the volume to an atmospheric whisper, as he does towards the end of the compelling title-track. The duet between kora and ngoni on ‘Simbo’ is as ethereal as the meshing of ngoni and balafon on ‘Ko Kuma Magni’ is downright funky. Segal’s cello offers the only non-traditional element, lending a droning, eerie empathy on ‘Toumarou’. But it’s Kassé Mady’s voice that commands attention. At 65 years old, he has surely never sung with greater authority and ripeness.

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November 2014: Top 10 UK Live Events

Posted on November 3rd, 2014 in Live, News, Recent posts by .

As the nights draw in, the musical calendar is getting ever busier. This month plays host to the annual EFG London Jazz Festival, and there are plenty more other events going on besides.

Here’s a lowdown of the Top 10 to look out for this November.


Red Note Ensemble with Kuljit Bhamra and Fraser Fifield


The premier Scottish force in contemporary classical music teams up with renowned Indian tabla player Kuljit Bhamra (pictured) and piper Fraser Fifield for two intimate performances in Aberdeenshire.

Where & When: Tarland & Portsoy, November 1 & 2. More info

The John Langan Band


Playing at the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe, the frenetic folk trio are set to tear all sense of decorum and pretence from its illustrious heritage. Known for their outrageous live shows, which can be personally verified following their incredible performance at last year’s London Remixed Festival, they’ll be accompanied by Will Varley, whose beautiful and wistful songs were a highlight of this year’s Larmer Tree Festival.

Where & When: Sam Wannamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, London, November 2. More info



The 11-piece mainstays of the contemporary English folk scene celebrated ten years together this year with their fifth studio album Revival. They follow it up with a full UK tour this November.

Where & When: Across the UK, Nov 7-29. More info

Susheela Raman


Susheela Raman returned this year with the highly acclaimed Queen Between and headlines the Jazz Cafe as part of the London International Arts Festival with an impressive roster in support. Jyotsna Srikanth’s band Bangalore Dreams are topping the list, but there will also be performances from Krar Collective and Nordic Raga.

Where & When: Jazz Cafe, London, November 9. More info

Abdullah Ibrahim


Dollar Brand celebrates his 80th birthday celebrating in style this year at the Royal Festival Hall. There’s a UK debut from his brand new trio with Noah Jackson and Cleave Guyton, and a performance from his septet Ekaya.

Where & When: Royal Festival Hall, London, November 15. More info

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80


His most recent release A Long Way to the Beginning was named as one of our ten essential Afrobeat albums in this month’s issue, and not without good reason. He plays one date in the UK as part of his November European tour, so don’t miss out!

Where & When: Band on the Wall, Manchester, November 20. More info



Tinariwen released their sixth album, Emmaar, earlier this year and have just announced a follow-up EP Inside/Outside, which was recorded in the same studio sessions. Catch them at the Roundhouse this November on the eve of the EP’s release, as part of their world tour.

Where & When: The Roundhouse, London, November 16. More info.

Tony Allen


On the very same evening that Seun plays in Manchester, an Afrobeat legend takes to the stage in the capital. Tony Allen was the drummer for Fela’s original Egypt 80 and has continued to produce genre-pushing and interesting albums as a solo artist following their parting. This year’s Film of Life is by far his strongest release this millennium and includes a track with his longtime collaborator Damon Albarn. Support will come from Aziz Sahmaoui.

Where & When: Village Underground, London, November 20. More info

Kassé Mady Diabaté


The Malian jeli will play as part of the London Jazz Festival in the intimate surroundings of London’s Purcell Room. His new album Kiriké was a Top of the World in this month’s issue.

Where & When: Purcell Room, London, November 23. More info

Ibibio Sound Machine


Ibibio Sound Machine’s blend of West African funk and modern disco is taking the world by storm. You’d be a fool not to be caught up by their infectious rhythms and outstanding arrangements. They’ll be supported by London-based Nigerian MC Afrikan Boy.

Where & When: Village Underground, November 27. More info


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