M’Bemba (Universal/Decca, 2006)
It’s been heating up Europe for a while, and now M’Bemba, the latest by Mali’s Salif Keita, will finally get its U.S. release on June 20th. Worth the wait? Oh my, yes. Keita was already back on track with the mostly acoustic,
tradition-based 2003 disc Moffou.
M’Bemba comes on a bit stronger and tougher while still sticking close to a pure West African sound occasionally brightened by Latin-leaning
grooves or Afropop bounce. Bold, momentum-building tracks like “Laban” enthrall
as as much as more pensive offerings (“Dery,” “Tu Vas Me Manquer”) entrance.
Vocally, Keita sounds both older and wiser. Where’s he’s previously been musically and in terms of life experience (as an albino and a man whose nobility-descended family opposed his becoming a musician) have served him well. His singing is emotional yet assured and the musical backing- rich with guitars, percussion, female vocals, keyboards and traditional instruments -couldn’t be better. Well into the fourth decade of his career, Keita is still making prime, progressive African roots music.
M’Bemba, recorded with obvious loving care in the Malian capital of Bamako, is a triumph.