Mory Kanté - Sabou
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Mory Kanté
Sabou
Riverboat (www.worldmusic.net)

cd cover Mory Kanté is a well-known name among African music aficionados. As a leader of the Ambassadeurs band with Salif Keďta, he is a pioneer of the Mande swing sound that emerged as musicians in the newly independent states of West Africa took their inspiration from their brothers-in-arms in the Cuban rhumba scene. In the 1980s Kanté struck success in Europe with his hit song "Yéké Yéké," and he emerged as a modern griot.

Sabou is being promoted as an acoustic album. That's mostly true, though electric bass and guitar are noticeable on several cuts. What it really means is that there's no drum kit, or (thank God) synthesized drums - the bane of so many 80s and early 90s Paris-produced African recordings. The rhythms are provided by layers of percussion producing a full, rich sound.

While there are some slow swinging ballads on the album - "Djou" and "Moko," for instance - there are a fair share of uptempo numbers. It's not hard to imagine "Mama," "Kénkan," or "Biriya" throbbing over a pulsing dance floor if they had a different instrumentation. The best songs, however, are in between these two. "Désolé," for instance, is a lush mix of delicate balafon, percussive guitar, sinewy kora and restrained background chorus, introduced and punctuated by the reedy Fulani flute that opens the album on "Nafiya." Splendid. "Diananka" is a little slower, in the classic Mande swinging style. Balafon and flute trade the spotlight when Kanté is giving his vocal cords a rest. There's more room on the number for the instruments to express their individual characters than on some of the other cuts. An added bonus are the fine liner notes provided by Lucy Duran and Kanté, outlining his heritage and career.

This is an important album for Kanté, whose reputation has exceeded his recorded output for the past 10 years. Hopefully, we'll be hearing more from him in the near future. - Craig Tower

Available from cdRoots


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