Amadou Balaké - In Conclusion
Posthumously released recordings can be rueful treasures. But Amadou Balaké (1944-2014) was more fortunate than many in that his posterity was not only well documented during his various heydays, but he remained at the peak of his powers and in strong demand almost until the end of his life.
Amadou “Balaké” Traore was born -- and later died -- in the landlocked African nation of Burkina Faso, but spent much of his life as a wandering minstrel, traveling throughout the Continent and the world, gathering and transforming influences along the way.
In the West, he was best known as a member of the internationally renowned Afro-Latin super-group Africando, but his reputation as a musical adventurer and tastemaker was well established long before that fateful encounter. In fact, he and the Gambian master Laba Sosseh had already made a famous pilgrimage to the New York City salsa scene decades earlier.
Balaké's own mature style incorporated staccato, multi-layered folkloric rhythms, sensual Latin grooves, American R&B, and driving, funk-buttressed Nigerian Afrobeat, along with passing quotes from an irresistible, quirky incarnation of psychedelia that surfaced in Africa during the 1970s.
The present recording, sympathetically produced under almost entirely studio-live conditions by French journalist Florent Mazzoleni, has a robustly immediate ambiance. Interactions between the players were permitted to flower in their natural state with a minimum of sonic sugarcoating.
Balaké's voice is eloquent, husky and well-seasoned but also remarkably youthful and virile. His rhythmic precision, ornamental grace, and fierce attack, undimmed by passing time, are buoyed, echoed, and enhanced by a crack ensemble of back-up players.
The opening track, “Kambélé Ba” hits the ground running, with woodsy balafons and rippling, gutty ngonis supporting massed voices and surging brass licks, the latter including a sax solo Fela Kuti might have been proud to own up to. “Bar Konon Mousso (Musicien C'est Pas Quelqu'un)” takes the Afropop context even further with a darkly urgent, repetitive, string-propelled vamp riding roughshod over a strutting rhythm section. “Oyé Ka Bara Kignan,” with its thrusting, Stevie-Cropper-like guitar and occasional spoken asides, is still another nod to the glory days of Lagos and The Shrine.
On the mysterious, muted “Kčlč Bila," Balaké honors ancestral voices, harking back to centuries of jalis and other anonymous masters of the Mande tradition, whose unrecorded passions and innovations were culminated in himself and other legendary musicians of his generation. The loping, bottom-driven “Balaké” has the bandleader's voice and that of a male chorus alternately sparring and joining forces with intricate ngoni lines; when the bass rears up to meet the other string players about midway through, it's like a sure-footed jump into another dimension.
The closing number is a soulful, inexorably rocking slow burn, sexy yet ethereal. While seemingly unrelated the rest of the set list, “Yéllé” crowns the album with a wistful, haunting melody. Underpinned by sighing choirs, Amadou Balaké seems to be recollecting unrequited desires and lost-past fruitions from the vantage point of someone wise, revered, and not yet resigned to old age. There could not have been a more touching and apt finale to one of African music's most prolific and celebrated careers. - Christina Roden
Audio ©2015 Stern's Music, used by permission.
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