Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba – Miri (Out Here Records, 2019)
Over the years Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba have dazzled fans with recordings like Ba Power (2015), Jama Ko (2013), I Speak Fula (2010) and Segu Blue (2007), so it can come as no surprise that Mr. Kouyate and the members of Ngoni Ba are back at it, serving up some equally fabulous music on their fifth studio album called Miri (meaning dream or contemplation in the Bamana language) from Mr. Kouyate’s original label Out Here Records.
Dipping into topics like love, family, friendship and current struggles over ethnic differences, power and climate change, Mr. Kouyate puts a finger on the pulse of Mali and an every changing world and gives it to us good by way of impeccably crafted music and singsong vocals.
Miri proves rich and rewarding Malian fare from the opening track “Kanougnon” with its sweet vocals and oud by guest artist Majid Bekkas against the intricate delicacies of ngoni on this searching for love song. Equally delicious is “Deli,” a song about friendship that boasts some outstanding percussion. Joining Mr. Kouyate on his own lead ngoni and Ngoni Ba members Amy Sacko on lead vocals, Abou Sissoko on medium ngoni, Madou Kouyate on bass ngoni, Mahamadou Tounkara on doundoun, tama and yabara and Moctar Kouyate on cabasse on the track “Kanto Kelena” is vocalist Habib Koite. Fans get a dose of Cuba on “Wele Cuba” with guest singer Yasel Gonzalez Rivera from the group Madera Limpia.
Title track “Miri” is a stunning instrumental track. Interestingly, the track is based on the Mr. Kouyate’s experiences as a child playing by the Niger River near his hometown Garana. Musically, Mr. Kouyate struggles with the easy memories of playing by the river with Mali’s current struggles with the Islamist movement, falling tourism and climate change that has dried out parts of the Niger River. It is through the music that Mr. Kouyate dreams of peace in his country.
There are other goodies like the twangy touches of Mr. Kouyate’s bottleneck slide ngoni on bluesy “Wele Ni” with vocals by Abdoulaye Diabate, some fiery percussion and ngoni lines on the track “Konya” and the rich vocals of Amy Sacko on the bluesy “Nyame,” a song urging respect your family and your family’s heritage with some extra help from guest fiddler Casey Driessen.
Guest singer Afel Bocoum appears on the “Tabital Palaaku,” a song about the conflicts between herders and farmers and the ethnic struggles that go along with struggles over land use in the wake of climate change. Miri closes out with an homage to Mr. Kouyate’s mother on the track he named after her called “Yakare.” Ms. Sacko gives voice to Yakare and her 13 children and a life of singing.
Miri is a true treat and all about the big dreams, small pleasures, love, friendship and hardship of Mali.