Kala Jula Mande Kulu
Review by Michael Stone
"Les Bouffons" (excerpt)
There is something about the kinship between West African and European string traditions, and the blend of kora, Mande lute (jeli n'goni), guitar, cello, string bass and piano has produced some enthralling results. Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder's Talking Timbuktu comes quickly to mind, which in turn informed the “Mali to Memphis” trope framing the transatlantic connections between John Lee Hooker, Eric Bibb, Guy Davis, Taj Majal, Boubacar Traoré and Habib Koité (to which one might add Djelimady Tounkara, Toumani Diabaté, and many others).
In more of a chamber jazz vein, Malian kora master Ballaké Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Segal have coursed the territory with Chamber Music and Musique de Nuit, while Cuban pianist Omar Sosa's recent partnership with Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita, Transparent Water, starts in West Africa and takes listeners even further afield to the Far East.
Mande Kulu is the third release of the Malian-Swiss combo Kala Jula, teaming Bamako griot Samba Diabaté (guitar, jeli n'goni or Mande lute) and Vincent Zanetti (djembé, guitar, zena lute), backed by Jacky Molard (violin, alto, post-production) and Hélène Labarrière (contrabass). Diabaté and Zanetti have a hand in all the compositions, laid down in a Brittany studio, with the exception of the closing live track.
"Berceuse Pour Atesh"
Deeply rooted in Manding tradition yet entirely contemporary, the work flows effortlessly from start to finish. With reason, Diabaté and Zanetti claim the Malian Mandé landscape, and the spirit of the djinns said to inhabit it, as their core inspiration. Molard and Labarrière bring an instinctive feel for the project, in a quartet that allows each member ample latitude to develop and embellish the ideas sketched out by Diabaté and Zanetti. Behold the interplay between guitars, violin and bass on “Ka Gonbori,” or the percussive drive and sprightly character of “Les Bouffons.”
"Dans Masa Wulani"
There is an extraordinary lyricism to their engagement, a sublime ease that draws the listener into the rare sort of work that inspires continuous playback, much in the spirit of extended improvisation that is at the core of Manding tradition. To wrap the recording, “Nouk” is a piece that could find a home in the Appalachian milieu, with live audience commentary that is integral to the music in its original setting. This is one exceptional title. - Michael Stone