Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba : I Speak Fula
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Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba
I Speak Fula
Sub Pop/Next Ambiance (www.subpop.com)

This is the second recording by this master of the Malian n'goni (a close relative of the Moroccan gimbri played by the G'nawa brotherhood). It references a language spoken from Gambia to Sudan, though aside from Guinea, the Fulani are a cultural minority of the countries in which they reside. So it seems Bassekou Kouyate reaches out to the masses and those whose voices are often marginalized at the same time, making this album, at least in title, a perfect statement - both vague and specific, large and small, culturally complex as well as blunt. Yet anyone who has ever basked in the welcoming, distantly familiar grooves of this mammoth, landlocked West African country knows immediately where Kouyate is from. His music is as regionally singular and yet, as all encompassing as any of the best of Mali, past or present.

Inspired to stand and play his n'goni after seeing electric guitarists at Bamako's legendary Buffet de la Gare, he has enlisted several other players, making N'goni Ba resemble a sort of West African Molly Hatchet on stage. Fortunately, the relationship ends there. With guests such as kora player Toumani Diabate and guitarist Vieux Farka Toure, Kouyate and N'goni Ba have made a sophomore LP that basks in slow, percolating blues, wicked signature shifts and haunted vocals, thanks largely to Amy Sacko, the band leader's wife. In fact, this albums reaches a deeper spot than the first album, which showed promise but was ultimately a bit too slickly polished. One got the feeling that somewhere below all that production was some good music, something that's allowed to rise to the surface here. On I Speak Fula one can hear not only the connections to obvious Malian rocks stars such as the Farka Toures, but also griots and musicians the likes of Seny Sangare and Daouda Dembele. The track "Moustapha," for example, which itself is a tribute to a deceased n'goni player, crawls along sweetly, allowing the undercurrent of stringed instruments room to breath, their staccato plucks spreading out like peacock fans. Elsewhere, the title track sputters furiously, instruments riding along on a flurry of notes. It's just these kinds of juxtapositions that give this album variety as well as intensity. - Bruce Miller

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