Massa Dembele Mezana Dounia
Review by Bruce Miller
The emergence of the kamale n'goni in the 1960s allowed Malians who weren't involved in hunter's ceremonies, where musicians played the more rigid, deeper-toned donson n'goni, a larger degree of freedom. The late Vieux Kante is one such master of the smaller harp. But just to Mali's east, in Western Burkina Faso, that same mid-twentieth century invention- an instrument that, despite being termed an n'goni, resembles the kora- had a similar effect on Jelis, Burkina's griot caste. Massa Adama Dembele, with a surname bound to the Jeli community, makes his debut as another kamala n'goni innovator with this release on a Washington DC label operated by Smithsonian Folkways Tech director Toby Dodds. Dembele has written every track on this LP, which was recorded in a makeshift Ougadougou studio.
On tunes unhurriedly plucked, Dembele sends cascades of notes pouring from his harp as he pontificates notions of the modern world overtaking the traditional, encourages his home country's many ethnic groups to celebrate their own diversity, and insists that parents stop forcing their daughters into marriage for monetary gain. Here and there, Dembele is accompanied by balaphon or flute, and he himself plays djembe and calabash, but this is largely a solo affair, deeply rooted in tradition, all the while casting a wider net to challenge many of the norms that come with the very roots to which his music adheres. - Bruce Miller