Bembeya Jazz and Super Rail Band de Bamako
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Bembeya Jazz
World Village (

Super Rail Band de Bamako
Kongo Sigui
Indigo (

cd cover Two veteran Afropop bands return to the scene doing what they do best, putting out crisp, rhythmic dance music. Though we have not heard from Guinea's Bembeya Jazz in fourteen years, they sound as if they have not missed a beat on this new release. The band originally formed in 1961 in a remote area of Guinea near the Ivory Coast. Introducing such elements as Manding folk songs and lavish stage shows featuring dancing girls, it was not long before they were gigging six nights a week and achieving national acclaim. Hard times and a declining club scene in the 1980's curtailed the band's recording career. They regrouped in 1998, and in 2002 returned to international touring and recording. The band's four-guitar string section characterizes its sound, headed up by "Diamond Fingers" Sekou Bembeya Diabaté, with occasional slide guitar thrown in for color. Three horns, three vocalists and a drummer round out the sound, but it's the guitarists who really shine. They lay out a sparkling, tightly woven fabric for the horns and vocals to display their wares. Much of what is on the new release are reworkings of music from the band's earlier career and they hold up well. Though the horns could be a little tighter and the vocals a little less reticent, the spirit is intact. Touches of folk and funk, and of course, the inescapable swoop of the slide guitar all add up to a genial, splashy sound.

cd cover In the 1950's, Mali's first president Modibo Keita established a number of regional dance bands in the hopes of creating a sense of national pride in the newly independent country. The 1968 military coup that shook the country destroyed the system. In 1970, in an attempt to revive the practice, the Malian Railway Company sponsored a band that would play in the hotel next to the Bamako train station. Thus the Super Rail Band was born. Legendary singers Salif Keita and Mory Kante were among the band's original vocalists. Though they left early on, the group continued to build an audience for the next two decades. Though their popularity fell a bit in the 80's and 90's in the wake of younger acts, French producer and promoter Christian Mousset got them through the 90's with concert tours and recordings. This new release is a collection of mellow, guitar-driven songs that capture the gentle spirit of Mali. It's a more acoustic ensemble than Bembeya Jazz, with kora, hand percussion, and soft female supporting vocals. When electric guitar and trap set are in the forefront, they give the whole thing a soft swing. The lead vocals are nearly operatic in their clarity and control.

Younger musicians could do worse than to listen to these two seasoned bands. In an era when over production rules the day, it's nice to go back and listen to bands who value the basics. - Peggy Latkovich

Available from cdRoots:
Bembeya Jazz
Rail Band

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