Les Ambassadeurs Du Motel De Bamako

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Les Ambassadeurs Du Motel De Bamako
Les Ambassadeurs Du Motel De Bamako
Sterns (www.sternsmusic.com)

The music on this compilation fills the fanatic's ear with euphoric frustration. It becomes maddening to the lover of 70s-era West African big bands to decide whether or not Les Ambassadeurs are or aren't as hypnotically badass as Bembeya Jazz, the Horoya Band or Sorry Bamba, or even lead singer Salif Keita's former group, The Rail Band.

The tracks on this two disc compilation, culled from the band's fertile, mid-seventies height, show a band with an interplay that (like, the above-mentioned groups) seemed to ascend the heavens. What were these folks hearing in their heads? How did grooves this supple appear in such seemingly infinite supply, only to be doled out in such heaping portions to a fair number of state-sponsored orchestres across various departments of Mali and Guinea, not to mention Senegal, Burkina Faso, Benin and even Togo?

The frenzy whipped up by the Ambassadeurs was subtler than the sweat-laced declarations of James Brown or the Godfather-inspired long-form funk of Fela or Ebo Taylor. But it was no less intense. Mali and Guinea both shared bands seemingly less groundbreaking. They weren't playing rock or JB-inspired street funk so much as updating local polyrhythm with electricity, snagging Cuban influence from colonial days and housing some of the most polished, understated and underrated guitar players the world had heard. It's an embarrassment to keep hearing how awesome the likes of Eric Clapton were, when “Diamond Fingers” Diabate or Les Ambassadeurs' own Kante Manfila shredded with such precision - and respect for their bands - that they left overrated western rock star-types eating their dust. West African orchestres were slinking away from the leftovers of a colonizing influence in order to lock in tight and get down on a level that combines sheer menace with a rhythmic drive. The awkwardly named Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako were no exception.

"Bolola Sanou" Salif Keita on lead vocal

Since the Rail Band had the Buffet hotel sewn up musically, the Motel de Bamako, owned by Ousmane Makoulou and sponsored by former junta leader Lt. Tiekoro Bagayoko, was looking for VIP entertainment and needed a group to compete. It was into this scene that Les Ambassadeurs stepped in 1972. With the aforementioned Manfila an early leader, they managed to talk the most popular voice in Mali, the Rail Band's Salif Keita, into defecting. Here, Keita was allowed to reach beyond the Rail Band's updates on traditional praise songs and perform original material. Though his time leading his new band was brief, and he shared the stage with two to three other front men, his influence was important. In fact, he's featured as lead vocalist on all of this collection's first disc and on the longest tune on disc 2, before bowing to other singers and their influences.

"M'Bouran-Mousso" Idrissa Soumaoro on lead vocal

"Ambassadeur" Kante Manfila on lead vocal

Oddly enough, as good as the first disc is, with Keita's voice sailing over delicate, guitar-directed shimmer, disc two brings out the band's darkest grooves. The repetition locks down into something beyond funk, with frantic organ stabs and percolating guitar licks as powerful as the Boiro Band's “So I Si Sa” from neighboring Guinea. From Keita's reign into the 70s, Les Ambassadeurs kept the Rail Band in check, and became one more important orchestre pushing West Africa's music forward - just prior to the rest of the world finding out what kind of aural intensity this region could crank out. - Bruce Miller

This CD set is available from cdRoots

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