BKO QUINTET (Mali) - "Bamako Today" Afropop Album review

Mardi, 3 Mars, 2015 - 02:22

BKO QUINTET (Mali) - "Bamako Today" Afropop Album review


Ecoutes Au Vert / Genève / Aventures sonores au grand air! / BKO QUINTET (Mali) - "Bamako Today" Afropop Album review / 1258252163





Mali has suffered through three years of political instability and tension, with serious consequences for musicians’ livelihoods, not only in the troubled north but in the capital, Bamako. And all that comes on top of the collapse of the recorded music industry worldwide, vicious local music piracy, and the garden variety challenges of being a musician in a poor African country.  But if times are harder in Mali than they’ve been in a long while, you wouldn’t know it from the country’s recorded musical output on the international market. The year has barely begun, and already we have four fine titles from both veterans and newcomers in Mali.


Finally, a brand-new group, BKO Quintet, debuts a CD/DVD package called Bamako Today(Maraka/Buda, out on March 10). All four of these new releases were created in the midst, or the wake, of Mali’s turbulent recent history. The extent to which they address that history is hard to evaluate, as none of these releases provide lyric translations. But BKO Quintet literally formed and made their first recordings amid crisis, and whatever the song lyrics might say, these performances exude a sense of urgency. The ensemble creates an engaging blend of rural and urban sensibilities. Prominent in the mix is the sound and feel of hunters’ music, with the heavy thrumming tones of the donsongoni(hunters’ harp) played by Nfali Diakite, who adds rap-like incantations that evoke ancient days when hunters were the storytellers and reporters of their village societies. At the same time, we have the sharp, nimble sound of the djelingoni (Abdoulaye Kone and Mbaba Sissoko) and portentous blasts of Mande griot oratory from Fassara Sacko. This group’s claim to be the first ever to combine hunters’ and griot culture is a stretch. (The Rail Band did that in the 1970s.) But BKO Quintet embraces this idea with gusto, focus and bristling energy. “Djelike” unfolds within the infectious, deep-swaying lope of Wassoulou music, only with griot ngoni riffing with that electric sawtooth edge we first heard from Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba. (Now it’s just part of the language for young griots in Bamako.) After some spitfire hunters’ wisdom, the vocals turn melodic, all set up for the full-on vocal blare from Sacko—recorded with the sound of a street wedding, as if through a megaphone. Nice. These are smart arrangements, created by combining sounds Mali music fans know well and adding a few surprises, like globe-trotting singer/songwriter Piers Facini who glides in with a gentle, English-language passage amid the slow grind of a hunters’ procession (“Donsolu”). Producer David Kledjian goes for a gritty sound that will sit well with fans of Tinariwen, Zani Diabaté or Lobi Traoré, early Malian rockers. The performances here are strong, and the music is often beautiful, though not pretty. This is a world apart from the courtly musings of Kasse Mady, yet the two sounds are plainly connected. BKO Quintet is young and keen on new ideas, but, like all four of these releases, their album falls easily within the inclusive genre that is Malian tradi-moderne—roots music with a twist. No doubt, wilder, woolier fare is being cooked up in Bamako’s recording studios this year, from cellphone balafon trance grooves to stadium-packing rap posses. We’ll get to those.  But this is not a bad start from a country many people—with some reason—take to be truly down and out.