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Habib Koite & Bamada
Putamayo (

cd cover This is the third album from Malian Habib Koite and his band Bamada. Born into the Khassonke jeli tradition, Koite has been receiving gushing praise from the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne in recent years and it's not hard to see why. On Baro, Koite sings in all the major languages of Mali, including Bambara, Songhai, Peul, Bobo, and his own Khassonke. Incidentally, the sleeve notes to the album also contain all the lyrics in French and English; quite useful for when you want to sing along.

Lyrically, Baro is testament to the ability of jelis to weave sheer magic through their words. The lyrics speak of love, wisdom, longing and morality, often through metaphor and allusion, always in the most poetic style. The lyrics to "Batoumanbe" present a simple, beautiful love poem, while "Woulaba" tells of the destruction of the African countryside by man.

The music is smooth and polished, sometimes hot and infectious, sometimes mellow and relaxed. Highlights include "Batoumanbe" and "Sin Djen Djen." The former is a passionate love song with a Latin feel, and provides the perfect vehicle for Koite's vocals. Everything about the track is irresistible, and it presents a tough act to follow for the remainder of the album. "Sin Djen Djen" gives veteran Keletigui Diabate a platform, and the result is sweet balafon playing over a gentle dance rhythm, interspersed with more of Koite's guitar playing and great vocal harmonies.

The album also features a new version of "Cigarette Abana," which was popular throughout Mali in the early 1990s. Koite plays acoustic guitar exquisitely, and has a gentle depth to his voice, and from the combination of an array of traditional drums, balafon, kamale n'goni, flute, and caragnan, emerges a rich tapestry of sound, authentically Malian and still highly innovative. Koite himself tries to adhere to the specific musical practice from which the concept of each song has stemmed. Therefore a song derived from a specific music culture will use the language and musical structures of that culture or ethnic group. With work like this to his credit, Koite will surely be the next Malian in line to achieve global stardom. - Jennifer Byrne

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