By Opiyo Oloya

Street Shakers of Senegal

In Senegal, they are known as the "Boul Fale" (never mind) Generation. They are young, impatient, hungry-for-success and extremely talented musicians who rarely get heard beyond their immediate street corners. Now, they have hit center stage with the compilation CD titled Streets of Dakar: Generation Boul Fale (Stern's). These kids pack truly mean punches. Their mbalax is served up in raw, vein-in-the-neck fashion. From the opening track to the final beat, percussion explodes freely as young unknown stars bare their souls with silver-tongued Wolof lyrics. Assane Ndiaye's "Nguisstal" offers a well seasoned sweet-voiced croon that gets you grooving. Thereafter, you face the fiery gauntlet of Assane Mboup, Ousmane Seck, Bada Seck, Maty Thiam Dogo, and Marie Ngone Ndione. Along the way, you also get to meet some familiar voices like Fatou Guewel, Thionne Seck and Alioune Kasse (see previous Afrodisc reviews). Please, pause long enough to check out Cheick Anta Diop's "Gelongal." This is the coolest hip-hop/rap ever to flow out of Africa. In fact, super-star Baaba Maal jumps in to give a vocal finale toward the end.

Suffice to say that for someone fed a steady diet of tame, watered-down Senegalese music like Youssou N'Dour's, this music is immediate, wild, urban and carefree. This is life itself.

Meanwhile, Senegalese kora player Kaouding Cissoko, has a released his much awaited and jazzy Kora Revolution (Palm Pictures / A well traveled artist, his resume includes stints with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Afro-Celt Sound System, Ernest Ranglin and, most notably Baaba Maal. On this album Cissoko places the kora in the foreground where he is the complete master of the 21-stringed harp-lute. Eschewing the slow traditional style of kora practiced by his contemporary Lamine Susso, he opts for fast openers and bouncy rhythms as on the tracks "Kora Revolution" and "Hero." While he does sing on some of the tracks, Cissoko mostly provides solid backbone to the score of vocalists including his friend Baaba Maal and his young niece Anna Cissoko ( who we first met on Ernest Ranglin's In Search of the Lost Riddim). In fact, he borrows from Lost Riddim some of the rugged melody that makes this album a welcome addition to avant-garde of kora music. The amazing thing is that he sustains the super-charged pace with practiced ease without losing the traditional flavor.

Three Mali Kings and a Queen

Salif Keita's latest, Papa (Metro Blue), is a throw back to his early days with the Rail Band of Bamako and Les Ambassadeurs. It is mellow fare laced with reggae rhythms and hints of jazz. It's introspective and reflective as if the superstar who introduced us to Mali's urban music is pausing in midlife to glance back whence he has come. But make no mistake, this is a carefully aged album where the subtle kora of Toumani Diabate meets the warm embrace of Ousmane Kouyate's guitar. The ensuing swirl of beautiful sounds wrap around Keita's voice, giving it an ethereal lift evident on the tracks "Tomorrow," "Ananamin" and "Mama".

Salif does go on the offensive on the tracks "Tolon Wille" ("The Party Is On," on which he is joined by Grace Jones) and "Abede." There is still plenty of fire in this Mansa of Mali.

Ali Farka Toure, the king of Mali blues, is back after a five year hiatus during which he retreated deep in the cocoon of his ancestral land. Niafunke (World Circuit), recorded live in Farka's home village, is alive with rare authenticity. It's as spacious as it is colorful. Ali does not have to prove anything to anybody here; he simply does what comes easily to him, playing beautiful ballads, sometimes dry and sometimes hot. Farka's acoustic guitar is anything but bluesy; somehow its distinctive twangs escape that western label to land on the nirvana of sweet sound. The result is an amazing collection of tunes which radiate outward to scatter in all directions like millet seeds. Check out the tracks "Ali's Here," "Hilly Yoro," "Mali Dje" and my favourite, "Tulumba". Nobody knows when or whether the reclusive Farka will ever record again, but this album will always loom truly large in the annals of African guitar music.

photo: Olivier Gresset
The other inspired, almost divine Mali CD comes from none other than kora nobility Toumani Diabate. On his latest album titled New Ancient Strings (Rykodisc / Diabate is joined by Ballake Sissoko. The duo cook up an instrumental duet worthy of the ears of the gods. Like twins, Sissoko creates the rhythm and tempo while Diabate embellishes with all the primary colors. The music is intense, soulful, deep and very beautiful.

What's more, the two extend the kora to a new height, allowing the instrument to burn with urgency and creativity. If you listen carefully, you will feel the two masters feeding off each other's energy, improvising without missing a link. So much so that even a Diabate staple like the track "Kita Kaira" is reworked into a sparkling multi-carat diamond that takes your breath away.

And finally comes a Mali queen whose voice lifts your spirit like no other. She is Kandia Kouyate. Her debut album Kita Kan (Stern's) is really the culmination of two decades of performing for the very rich and famous of Mali. On the epic song "Madenkalou," accompanied by a stunning 41 piece western string orchestra, Kouyate's windswept voice transports us closer to the majestic 13th century Mande empire that stretched throughout north Africa. Rolled in that single tune alone are the voices of all the great African women singers like Miriam Makeba, Mbilia Bel, Aster Aweke, Oumou Sangare, Anjelique Kidjo and countless others. But then she shakes us back to the present with melodious soukous rhythm on the very next track titled "Kandali." In a spirited duet, Kouyate teams up Guinean vocal powerhouse Sekouba Bambino on the track "Folilalou" and what a team they make. This is worth every minute of the two-decade wait. - Opiyo Oloya

Available at
Streets of Dakar
Kandia Kouyate, Kita Kan
Ali Farka Toure, Niafunke
Salif Keita, Papa
Kaouding Cissoko, Kora Revolution

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 Sunday, 6:00 PM- 8:00 PM. CUIT is now available via Real Audio G2 at

return to rootsworld

Subscribe Now!