First-Class Malian Music from Hama Sankare

Hama Sankare – Niafunke (Clermont Music, 2019)

If you’ve ever heard Malian artists like Ali Farka Toure, Afel Bocoum, Le Troup Regionale de Nia funke, L’Orchestre de Gao, Songhoy Allstars or BanKaiNa, you’ve heard Alpha Ousamane “Hama” Sankare. This vocalist, calabash player, composer and arranger is a kind of musical cornerstone in Mali’s musical landscape who stepped out on worldwide musical stage in 2018 on his Clermont Music release Ballebe – Calling All Africans.

Now, because the fine folks at Clermont Music know a good thing when they hear it, they’ve set loose another stunning collection of songs by Mr. Sankare on the world music scene. Entitled Niafunke , Mr. Sankare blazes bright with this collection of original tracks with a few traditional Malian tunes thrown in for good measure and a track co-written with vocalist Afel Bocoum.

Hama Sankare – Niafunke

Whether you’re new to the wonders of Malian music or are already a devoted fan, Niafunke is brimming over with Malian goodness.

Joining Mr. Sankare’s vocals and calabash playing on this recording is a first class line-up of musicians including Oumar Konate on guitar, Oramane Toure on bass, Makan Camara on drums and percussion, Afel Bocoum on backing vocals, Yoro Cisse on monochord, Alibaba Traore on guitar, Kande Sissoko on ngoni and Sekou Toure on backing vocals.

Overflowing with trance-inducing rhythms, warm call-and-response vocals, shimmering guitar licks so good they’ll make a grown man weep and surrounded by the steady, righteous rhythms of calabash, Niafunke is stellar collection of musical treats.

From the opening of “Dewel Wege” through tracks like the guitar lick laced “Remobe” and goodies like “Tiega Mali” and traditional track “Nojarro,” Niafunke is all hip grooves surrounded by that keenly felt Malian dessert blues/rock stamp.

Fans will definitely want to take a listen to “Alkaleyka,” the bluesy “Yer Kur Ti Afo” and the feel good “Solane,” as well as the upbeat ode to women and children “Cherie” and spectacular instrumental “Baba Gomni.”

Niafunke overflows with great music and good grooves, so my only complaint about Niafunke has nothing to do with the music itself, it concerns the liner notes. In teeny tiny letters on the back of the cover under the song title are some of the lyrics to the songs. Some of these lyrics include: “Today Mali suffers – Killings Banditry – We are tearing each other apart,” “People of Mali come together for peace,” and “Its is a tragedy that there are so many people without meaningful work. So much human potential is being lost.”

I’ll say right out that the regular World Music Central reader is smarter than the average bear. That being said, I’m sure there are a good number of folks out there that have no clue about the goings on in Mali or even where Mali is. If it takes liner notes concerning the state of affairs another country or culture or the tragedies of another group of people far away to enlighten music lovers then that’s what it takes. I don’t think making a point to publish decent sized liner notes of a song’s lyrics so people can and are encourage to read them takes anything away from the music. Knowing the hardships of Mali doesn’t take power away from Mr. Sankare’s music – it makes it all the more powerful.

Buy Niafunke in North America

Buy Niafunke in Europe

Author: TJ Nelson

TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow. Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931. Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.

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