Kar kar
Boubacar Traore
Nahawa Doumbia
Mali K7/Cobalt - France

Boubacar "Kar Kar" Traore
Label Bleu /Indigo - France

Here are two examples of Malian music that couldn't be further apart. Both are from highly respected artists who have received high praise here in the past, both feature roots-oriented arrangements and primarily acoustic backing ensembles. One is priceless, one is at best adequate.

Nahawa Doumbia is a brilliant singer with a soaring set of vocals chords that has enraptured the listener at every turn in the past. In the first minute or two of Yaala, we get a rising expectation of more of that skill and thrill. Then something terrible happens. Some weak kneed French guitarist named Claude Barthelemey chimes in on slide guitar and demolishes the mood with some of the most aimless noodling to hit tape in a generation. No kidding. From here on he insinuates himself into almost every track with ametuerish faux blues, jazz and funk licks. Why, why, why was this necessary? It's such a waste, because her ensemble's performances are shining, her voice is as wonderful as ever, but all the way to the end of this CD you get tripped up by this silliness (if you make the mistake of buying this thing, check the third track for some of the most ridiculous pseudo-Arabic jazz vamping you have ever heard) and a production that makes the journey pointless. Bad things like this should not happen to great artists like Doumbia.

More Mali Music
In Griot Time
presents a most unique look at the music.
Then there is Kar Kar. His rich, woody-warm guitar sound is surrounded by the clack of the calabash, the throb of the balafon and the ring of the ngoni, accented by electric bass, some violin, lots of small percussion and complementary guitars. There is the rich Malian guitar sound, similar to but more subtle than Ali Farka Toure, and his rough and wonderful vocals everywhere, but the material he has selected for this album is a bit more expansive than in previous recordings, a broader palette that never uses colors for their own sake. There are playful hints of Latin rhythms, more obvious bows to the blues than before, and the closing track is a wonderful reinterpretation of the 1960s dance craze, The Madison, delivered lovingly if a bit tongue in cheek, combining the ancient balafon with some bopping harmonica, poppy guitars and a call and response chorus right off the 60s airwaves. An brilliant group of musicians assist in these efforts, including the legendary Kelitigui Diabate on balafon, Habib Koite on guitars, Boubacar Sidibe on harmonica and guitar and great quartet of percussionists and drummers. They all have deep reverence for the music, but they all have an awful lot of fun along the way. This music is never contrived or forced. It exists for itself and the listener rather than fashion or fad. Boubacar Traore is a natural, and we are blessed with another marvelous record of his human scale and natural talent. - Cliff Furnald

Available at cdRoots

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