Good Golly Mali

The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali
The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali (World Music Network RGNET 1208, 2008)

It’s been said numerous times and hardly bears repeating that Mali is a poor country with incredibly rich music. This knockout collection is all the proof you’ll need as to just how rich. It’s a great starting point for anyone new to Malian music, and the more experienced lot will likewise find the scope of this Rough Guide plenty impressive.

Though Salif Keita is conspicuously absent, most of Mali’s other leading lights are represented. The serpentine rhythm, rippling traditional instrumentation and desert-dry bluesy vocals of the opening “Bala” by Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba featuring Zoumana Tereta start the journey in perfectly unassuming style, digging into Mali’s unplugged splendor as deeply as further cuts by vets Afel Bocoum and Boubacar Traoré as well as the more recently emergent Rokia Traore.

Late great guitarist Ali Farka Toure is featured in duet settings with both his rightly acclaimed son Vieux and kora virtuoso Toumani Diabate, Tinariwen provide their usual sizzle, and the modern sheen of tracks by Issa Bagayogo and Babani Kone show Mali to be embracing a more global sound with the same sort of finesse that the earlier “Mousso Gnaleden” by Les Ambassadeurs Internationales no doubt did in its day. It’s all about as far-reaching as a single disc can get in providing an earful of what Mali has to offer, up to and including “Summertime in Bamako,” a slice of jazz whimsy by balafon great Keletigui Diabate that gets the final word.

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Author: Tom Orr

Tom Orr is a California-based writer whose talent and mental stability are of an equally questionable nature. His hobbies include ignoring trends, striking dramatic poses in front of his ever-tolerant wife and watching helplessly as his kids surpass him in all desirable traits.