New diva in the Malian firmament

Kokanko Sata

Kokanko Sata (Honest Jons HJRCD12, Mali)

For anyone like myself, a European intrigued and mesmerised by the power of
the Wassoulou sound, this release will come
as something of a revelation. For Kokanko Sata plays kamalngoni, a plangent harp
of intense exquisite musicality,
whose roots lie in the age-old hunting tradition of southern Mali. So what’s the
revelation? In Kokanko’s society no
woman has ever played the kamalngoni, certainly never in the presence of others.This woman with the majestic, gruff voice accompanies herself on a number of
cuts in this release, alone under the stars at Bamako’s Club Makelekele with
just her instrument and a microphone or two for company. And that’s exactly how
the album feels…lonesome, yearning, reaching out in the darkness, the endless
depth of a Malian night sky. On other tracks, for example, the marvelously
fluid, languid ‘Wonanfeku,’ Sata hits full flow over a chorus of balafon, ngoni
and Wassoulou flute (also from the hunter’s tradition) in a soundtrack that is
totally redolent of the heady swelter of a Bamako night.

Aficionados of Malian music – in particular the Wassoulou sound – cannot fail
to be entranced by this beautifully simple,
uncluttered release which places a huge new talent firmly onto the international
stage. Don’t be frightened by the content
– any fan of the great Oumou Sangaré will already be familiar with the musical elements of this recording – Sata’s style adheres more to her traditional roots,
albeit she is breaking a very strict tradition with some success.
Congratulations and thanks to Blur frontman Damon Albarn and Honest Jon’s
Records for grabbing hold and keeping on with this one, and especially for not
f***ing it up by playing all over it.

[The album is available from
Stern’s and other