Balafon master Seydou "Kanazoé" Diabaté introduced the world to Kanazoé Orkestra with their urgent debut album, Miriya. Born in Burkina Faso and based in France, Diabaté follows in the footsteps of his griot ancestors and takes his contemporary African music to audiences around the world. His rich compositions and arrangements are given life by his talented group. On the new record, Tolonso, he is reunited with Mamadou Dembélé (flute, ngoni, balafon, vocals), Martin Etienne (saxophone), Stéphane Perruchet (percussion), Elvin Bironien (bass), and Laurent Planells (drums). This time around, Losso Keïta joins the band and adds his powerful vocals to the mix.
Tolonso means "where we celebrate" and it also is the name of Diabaté's birthplace in Burkina Faso. There is plenty to revere on this album. Sambla, Mandingo and Bambara traditions combine with jazz, Latin and even some electronic elements to create a lively set of African music, sung mostly in Dioula, that is unique and vibrant. The group sounds comfortable taking risks and it's easy to hear the satisfying results track after track.
Right from the start, the balafon and saxophone ring out with the slow, infectious "Dounia." Keïta's lead vocals soar above the excellent arrangement, striking a fine balance with the band immediately. It is easy to hear each instrument and voice, adding to the dynamic of this composition. The lyrics speak of the uncertainty of the world and how everyone should give each other hope.
The pace quickens with "Mousso," a passionate tribute to the importance of women. The balafons lock into harmony with the sax and syncopated rhythms. Bironien's bass playing ties everything together, popping this track into life. "Nafiguiya" is lightning-quick, the group jumping into a pulsating groove that shows the dexterity of the musicians.
"Djoroko" is a striking song that features Dobet Gnahoré on vocals singing alongside Dembélé. The ngoni plays a repeated riff while the vocalists sing about the ongoing conquest and destruction of Africa. Towards the end of the track, Gnahoré's vocals take flight and the band follows with a captivating performance.
Diabaté writes from the heart on "Tama." The lyrics address his voyage to France and how he plans to return to his homeland. The importance of seeking adventure is felt on this thrilling composition with strong group vocals. "Bara" snaps into existence with some excellent unified rhythms. Keïta sings with intensity, calling on Burkinabes to work together, over the metronomic balafons.
"Kounadia" introduces the wild electronic clavier stylings of J.P Rykiel. The mysterious sound of this arrangement is enhanced by the flute and the spirited vocals of Keïta. The electronic elements add lots of intrigue to this memorable track. The uptempo "Bembaliya" also features Rykiel's clavier which adds a nice contrast to some fine bass playing. The fusion of instruments on this track is intriguing.
The ensembles continues to cook on "Farafin," muscling through this atmospheric composition with animated grace. "Tounga" is a sentimental track, again featuring Rykiel, that draws on some serious salsa vibes halfway through the composition, sparking it into life. The balafon and piano play off each other brilliantly, showing the group is capable of switching directions at a moment's notice.
Tolonso closes with "Ka Na Son," a reminder that money is bad and causes lots of strife. Keïta's voice pleads with the audience as the two balafons build up the track. This simplified arrangement is a fitting way to conclude the album. Throughout this album, Kanazoé Orkestra twist and turn with delight. The vivid compositions are performed with style and agility. This ensemble offered a lot of promise after their debut album. They have not disappointed with their excellent follow-up. This style of modern African music will entice listeners across the globe. - Alex Brown
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