Ligerian Blues by Deltas

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Deltas
Ligerian Blues
Super Records / Buda Musique

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"N'oublie pas"

Musicians and scholars throughout the world have often drawn aesthetic, historical, or mythological connections between the blues as it is known throughout the US and different styles of music stemming from regions of Africa. With Ligerian Blues, the Franco-Malian trio Deltas adds yet another strand to this conversation, highlighting imagined and/or real connections in name and sound alike.

Deltas began as a duo based in Angers, France, formed by guitarist Vincent Erdeven of dub group Zenzile and violinist/kora player Richard Bourreau of WOMAD-circuit veterans Lo'Jo. The two-piece expanded to a trio following their eponymous début in 2013 after collaborating with ngoni player/singer Andra Kouyaté, originally of Bamako and sideman with Ivorian singer Tiken Jah Fakoly. Thus, the imagery of the word “Ligerian” (a seeming portmanteau of the Loire and Niger rivers) evokes a symbolic merging of the geographic and musical origins of the musicians themselves, while the group's name recalls the Mississippi delta, the hallowed “source” of the blues.

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"Savaaree" (excerpt)

One way to listen to this album is to pick up on the slight nods, and sometimes sweeping references, to the blues and string-based musics from around the world. Bourreau's violin gestures, full of western European vibrato and intonation, also feature heavily pentatonic and ornamented passages that emphasize a connection to the spike fiddle styles in many parts of West Africa (“Deltas la,” “Solou yaya,” “Savaaree”).

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"Dogotou" (excerpt)

Shades of flamenco come across in “Estuario” through the use of percussive guitar strumming patterns and harmonic minor sonorities. In a more obviously referential moment, Erdeven's slide guitar cuts through the droning major of “Dogotou,” named for a town in Mali, revealing yet again the importance of place on this recording.

However, taking it in all at once works just as well. Lyrically speaking, Andra Kouyaté and featured vocalist Djéné Kouyaté sing predominantly in Bambara, a language and ethnicity heavily represented in southwestern Mali, interpolating lines in French throughout. Certain songs bring up themes common throughout transnational Afro-diasporic projects, as in “Unité,” where Andra even reverts to English to say “Africa you must be unite[d].”

Despite predominant call-and response textures, the convergence into vocal overlap in “N'oublie pas” is one of the more compelling moments of the album, in which the singers comment on the importance of historical and cultural memory: “Il regardait le passé et avançait sans rien oublier” (“He considered the past and moved forward without forgetting a thing”). Andra's ngoni improvisations and carrying of the melody in “Salutations” shadow Bourreau's descending kora runs, highlighting the expressive qualities of both.

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"Bamako Angers" (excerpt)

Notably, flowing through virtually the entire album is Andra Kouyaté's bass ngoni, propelling each piece forward, often in polyrhythmic tension (such as in the appropriately titled “Dansez”), but also in gently repetitive cycles beneath more ornamental playing, as in “Bamako Angers,” the final track. Here, the complementary layering of the ensemble, in addition to the title of the song, heavy-handedly yet pleasantly reinforces the image of rivers, literally or aesthetically, flowing between the two primary worlds from which the members hail, as well as their newly mythologized associations with the Mississippi delta. - Dylan McDonnell

Photo: Imbertie Vali
Audio ©2016 Deltas/Super Records; used by permission

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