Thursday, 4 April 2013

Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni ba - Jama Ko Review

Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni ba - Jama Ko [African World/Afro-Latin/Jazz]


Jama Ko is the third studio album from Malian musician Bassekou Kouyaté and his band Ngoni ba.

I hadn't heard much in the way of African music prior to listening to this album, which I suspect allowed me to review this collection with an open mind free from stereotypes and expectations (a frame of mind which I should, admittedly, try to use more when reviewing more familiar genres like metal).

This album starts off with its title track: a smooth, groovy piece of music.

The beats and vocal lines are distinctly African, but the Ngoni solos by Kouyaté at times take on an almost blues-rock feel (think Gary Moore and Derek Trucks). Kouyaté, additionally, makes use of a variety of effects like distortion and wah; his solos and interludes, as a result, have a quasi-contemporary touch; this isn't something I'm terribly pleased about, but maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt since it could be the case that the Ngoni's own raw sound cannot sufficiently cut through the mix or even that Kouyaté himself wanted it to be this way.

The album, overall, stays fairly true to genre; having said that, there are certain songs that have a slight Latin-influenced flavour to them ("Madou" and "Sinaly" being two of such). These two tracks stand out for their more accessible ("catchy", if you will) grooves and up-tempo feel. The string work by Kouyaté on "Sinaly" in particular is speedy and technical without being overbearing or show-offy; the vocal melodies are memorable - anybody with a pulse who listens to this stuff will end up involuntarily tapping their feet or knuckle-drumming or something like that.

This album is a pleasure to listen to - Kouyaté's obvious musical talent shines through in his playing and composition. The chorus singers sound rich and full, and the various guest vocalists add gloss and colour to the tracks. However, it disappoints in the sense that it seems to straddle the divide between traditional/ethnic and contemporary without taking on a definitive identity. Nevertheless, this album contains enough musical value and interest factor to keep me listening.

Rating: ★

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