M’Bemba [Ancestor] (Universal Jazz, 2005)
Salif Keita‘s Soro is one of the few Afro-fusion releases to truly cross
over into the mainstream.
Soro led the way for a thousand inferior efforts, not
least from the great man himself. It came as a joy to many of us, therefore,
when Salif released 2003’s
Moffou which featured a return-to-roots approach
bringing in a far more powerful element of African acoustic instrumentation and
a set of tunes just built for the regal singer’s majestic voice.
(ancestor) takes that theme and develops it along much the same lines but with a
richer tapestry of sounds and a proper home-grown recording, based back home in
Bamako where his music is fully understood. Not wishing to mess too much with a successful formula Keita has opted once
again to work with the great guitarist/arranger Kanté Manfila whose own more
recent work (for example
Kankan Blues) has driven much of the resurgence of
interest in roots-styled sounds. Another inspired choice was to draft in one of
West African music’s finest backroom boys, the Guinean guitarist, former Ambassadeur and guitarist on that memorable
The album’s title is very apt, as the song of the same name pays tribute to
one of Keita’s most revered ancestors and founder of the mighty Mande Empire
eight hundred years ago, the illustrious Sundiata Keita.
M’bemba is the pivot
around which the rest of the album revolves, its potent chorus and fabulously
powerful lead performance ring in the ears and in the mind long after it’s
finished, leaving one with the distinct impression of having been in the
presence of royalty. This and other tunes, like the endlessly rolling, open
vista’d Kamoukie benefit from the participation of a who’s who of West African
music from the past 30 years – including the globally-famous griot
Toumani Diabate and another griot known for his collaborative works, Djeli
M’Bemba sets a new standard in classic West African fusion which even
the great Salif himself will find hard to match.