Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba: Traditional Malian Modal Groove at Its Best

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Bassekou Kouyaté (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Bassekou Kouyaté and his band Ngoni Ba burst upon the African and world music scene a few years ago, winning top world music awards and winning the hearts and minds of African music fans everywhere. It is pure Malian groove, no gimmicks—it doesn’t need any. (Well, there is a wah-wah pedal and some guest musicians). Following up on his popular two first album’s, Segu Blue and I Speak Fula (a language of Mali and Senegal), he has now released a third terrific album.

Bassekou has performed with some big names: Sir Paul McCartney, John Paul Jones, and many others.

Musicologists agree that the ngoni, a small Malian instrument, is the ancestor of the banjo, the beloved American bluegrass instrument. Superficially, the two instruments couldn’t appear more different. But, as Béla Fleck proves in his documentary, Throw Down Your Heart, the two are distant cousins.

Bassekou Kouyaté’s says of his newest album, Jama Ko: “C’est pour tout le monde,” which translates to English as “it’s for everybody.” He’s referring not only to the ecumenical appeal of his roots music, but also that it bears witness to a peaceful form of Islam that has been practiced for hundreds of years, unlike the radical form of Sharia Islam that invaded Northern Mali and tried to take over the country until the government troops and French troops drove them out. The fundamentalists would also have banned music.

Jama Ko features veterans like singer-guitarist Kasse Mady Diabaté, powerful diva Khaira Arby, and even Taj Mahal joins this musical crew. The album was produced by Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Godspeed!, and Coeur de Pirate). The ngoni groove is captivating; the music is pure joy, as you will see. I highly recommend it.

Musical power, too (A woman once told me this music made her feel courage).