Alatoumi (World Village 470003, 2002)
Even if your global music collection is fairly extensive, chances are you don’t own a great deal of music from Niger. It just so happens that the music of Niger hasn’t been as widely recorded and distributed as that of some other African countries in the same general area (Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, etc.), and if the high quality of Alatoumi is any indication, it’s a shame.
Mamar Kassey (the name sounds like one person, but it’s a band) play deliciously twangy roots music not unlike what you’d hear coming from other lower Saharan regions, but it jumps with a passion very much its own thanks to a tightly intertwined mix of modern guitar and bass sparring intensely with not-so-modern lutes, flute and percussion.
Some of it is as funky as can be, but the disc is incredibly alive in its more thoughtful moments as well. Lead vocalist/flutist Yacouba Moumouni’s voice has a wailing Arabic keenness to it, and on songs like "Dommo," it straddles the rising and falling rhythms and hair-standing-on-end female background vocals with style and grace. His sparse but deft flute work is nice too, helping to bring out the intricacies of instrumental passages where shades of Senegalese m’balax and Nigerian juju are heard.
Alatoumi is terrific from start to finish, easily one of the best African releases of the year. Anyone who may have regarded Niger as a non-presence on the music map had better seriously change their way of thinking.
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