Feeling Like a Different Guitarist

Leni Stern - Sabani
Leni Stern

Sabani (Leni Stern Recordings, 2012)

Leni Stern continues her collaborations with African musicians on her latest album, titled Sabani. Stern has a genuine affection for the music and people of Africa and this time she spent time in Mali, exploring the roots of blues music.

Sabani features a collection of musical collaborations that combine various musical traditions, including blues, jazz and traditional Malian music. The tracks are the result of a series of laid back jam sessions with Stern on guitars, ngoni ba, tipple and vocals; Haruna Samake on kamele ngoni and karinyan; and Mamadou Kone (aka Prince) on calabash, talking drums and shakers.

I kept feeling I had the ultimate blues instrument in my hand,” said Stern after she played the ngoni ba, which some researchers think is one the ancestors of the banjo.

A few other friends joined the musical gathering as special guests: Ami Socko on vocals, Buba Sacko on ngoni, and Zoumana Tareta on vocals and sokou. The sessions were recorded at Salif Keita’s Mouffou Studios in Bamako.

I don’t know why I waited so long to record this way,” Stern reflects. Stern was brought by UNESCO to mentor studio engineers in Mali. She performed at seminal venues like the Festival in the Desert, touring with musicians, including Salif Keita and Baaba Maal, and made friends with her newfound teachers and companions. She spent nearly two years living, learning, and making music across Africa.

The best cuts on the album feature Stern’s virtuoso instrumental work, jamming with the masterful members of Salif Keita’s band and the guest vocalists. “After all my time in Africa, all the musicians I’ve gotten to work with, I feel like a different guitarist, a different person, like I belong to the red earth and the warm winds and the people I love there,” says Stern. ”I don’t think anyone can go and live there without changing profoundly. And we have a lot to learn from Africa.”

Stern and a trio of African master musicians – Kofo (talking drum, vocals), Alioune Faye (percussion), and Mamadou Ba (bass) – will share this sound with audiences on the West Coast, Southwest and Midwest as part of their Spring 2012 tour. Cities include Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Cleveland, Albuquerque, and Phoenix.

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