by Opiyo Oloya

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Youth & Talent From Mali

Mali offers two fresh voices to the musical powerhouse of modern female griots. First, there is Fantani Toure whose debut album N'tin Naari (Stern's, 1997) was produced by Salif Keita. Young and very talented, Toure shines brilliantly on all the tracks, her sharp voice sailing above the rocking lead guitar of Lamine Soumano (see below for more on this multi-instrumentalist). Meanwhile, Moussa Diabate and Saar Ibrahima keep tight reins on the balafon and djembe respectively. In fact, the percussion section is deliberately sparse, allowing Toure's dry-sweet voice to shake the hands of heaven.

Toure, who started her climb to fame at a very tender age, waltzes easily from explosive tunes like "Sanka Nyonkon", "Doussouba" and "Les Artises" to the more emotive R&B tracks like "Domba" and "N'tin Naari". If you listen carefully to the latter tune, you'll discover what separates Toure from contemporary Wassoulou singers: she sings with the grace of a galloping antelope; fluid and natural, but underneath that voice lives a fiery dragon lady, ready to spit fire.

Mother & Son From Mali

CD cover image Then there's Aminata Kamisokko whose international debut album, Malamine (Stern's Africa, 1997), combines her ringing voice with the nimble fingers of her son, Lamine Soumano, on kora and acoustic guitar, and the frolicking hands of Zou Diarra on bass and lead guitar.

Malamine follows a simple, but effective formula which goes something like this: The instruments roll out without effort, in perfect unison. Then Aminata, who comes from a long line of jali (professional singers), sweeps the landscape with her rising and falling voice.

Never mind that the voices and the kora were recorded in Mali, while the layers of lead and bass guitars were stitched months later in a London studio. The resulting music is as seamless as melted honey in a cup of well-brewed tea. What more can I say?

Canned Disco Juice From Guinea

The same cannot be said of Kaba Baba Djan's album Sabari (Mercury-Sankara, 1997). Though the Guinean vocalist scored a direct hit on his first release in 1995, this album is limp and wanting. Djan obviously wanted to marry his great voice to the Gumbe beat from Guinea-Bissau. Alas, tracks like "Mbemba" and "Koko Foute" are disoriented in the confusing pseudo-modern urban beat of blurry kora and bass line. It's annoying trying to drink Djan's ebullient voice only to have canned disco juice splashed in your face.

To his credit, though, Djan momentarily lifts off on acoustic tracks like "Bamba", "CFA", "Sabari" and "Foudou Kassa" where his lilting voice is positively strong alongside the acoustic guitar. But, when all is taken into account, this album is best left on the shelf where it belongs.

Dikongue, An Instant Classic

Yet where Kaba Baba Djan fails, Cameroonian Henri Dikongué succeeds in making C'est La Vie (Tinder Records, 1998) glow with acoustic ambiance. Following the path of acoustic guitar legends like Congolese Jean Bosco Mwenda Wa Bayeke and Wendo, the Cameroonian has stripped-down his music of all the bells and whistles. The result is unadulterated music that soars in bright breezy tempo even when it sings the blues.

Dikongue's real secret is the ability to use keen ears to peel away unnecessary white noise, leaving behind a truly magnificent "heart" of the music. He also knows what precisely to add to the brew, in this case the piano, violin and an assortment of percussion instruments. Moreover, his soft-sweet voice leads a vibrant chorus on tracks like "Na Tem Ite Idiba", "We Nde Mba", "Bulu Bo Windi Tenge", and my personal Makossa favourite, " A Mumi".

Poetic, yet folksy, "C'est la Vie" is an instant classic that will lighten up a smile anywhere on the globe, be it in Mongolia, Yaunde or Kyoto, Japan.

Malouma, Mermaid of The Desert

cd cover Thanks to Mauritanian temptress, Malouma Mint Maideh, we now know the location of the Garden of Eden- it is somewhere in the arid desert of Mauritania. On her debut album, Desert of Eden (Shanachie, 1998), Malouma kindles a rare flame with her explosive rap/R&B/rai/pan-African medley that transforms simple desert lyrics into hopping, hip-grinding anthems strong enough to turn heads in Harlem.

To achieve her unique urban blend, Malouma got plenty of help from Senegalese producer Pape Dieng who doubled on the drums and tabla, bassist Pathe Djassy and guitarist Oumar Sow. What's more, the whole shebang was recorded at Youssou N'Dour's Xippi Studio in Dakar.

Yet there is no mistaking the Arabic "hills and valleys" singing style popular in Mauritanian folk melody as Malouma weaves one hit song after another while skillfully plucking on the ardine, a traditional instrument exclusively played by women. She reigns supreme on "Rasm", "Eden", "Ya Maliha" and "Ya Habibi" with their haunting beauty and simplicity.

But my absolute favourite track (and I have listened to it more than a hundred times) is the catchy "Soura" with its free-wheeling scattering rhythm. In the rising dust, Malouma's voice is solid and commanding as she channels energy all around her. The lasting image is that of a conquering Joan of Eden, charging forward for an opening, ready to take on the world.

We have not heard the last from this mermaid of the desert.

The previous edition of Afrodisc is available

Opiyo Oloya is the host of the radio program Karibuni on CIUT 89.5 FM Radio, Toronto. The show airs on Saturday 4:00 PM- 5:00 PM.

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