Mah Damba
Djelimousso
Buda, France

The musical tradition of the griots of West Africa is becoming familiar territory for many a fan of African and world music. Recordings of griots and of their instrument par excellence, the 21 string kora, are now relatively common. This may create a false impression that the kora is the most dominant instrument and the one of choice for all griots. Whilst it is true that the griots in the Senegambia region (especially in the Casamance) favour the kora, the balafon (a wooden xylophone) is the typical accompaniment for griots in Guinea and the ngoni (a strummed/plucked lute) is the more commonplace in Mali.

This tradition of instrumentation is an important consideration when examining the roots of the pop music from the region, for the electric guitar solos that characterise the very best of Malian pop music (from the Orchestras of the 1970s to Zani Diabaté to the electric guitar accompaniment for griottes like Tata Bambo Kouyaté) are derived from ngoni melodies. This becomes apparent when listening to Djelimousso, the debut release by Mali's Mah Damba, a griotte with impressive credentials. She is the daughter of Djeli Baba Sissòko and niece of the great Fanta Damba, and is accompanied on this recording by her husband, Mamaye Kouyaté, who plays the ngoni. On the opening track "Sounaf" ("I am a griotte and I will not follow a cowardly man") the purely acoustic ensemble falls immediately into a classic groove, supplying a source of inspiration, hopefully, for many an aspiring Malian guitarist.

Mah Damba's vocals are flawless throughout the CD and comparable to the very best from Mali. The recording contains several epic narratives and praise songs, and her ensemble includes a total of three ngoni's, plus acoustic guitar and percussion. It represents an excellent debut release and if this group ever go electric then stand back. - Graeme Counsel

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