I once asked Malian bluesman Ali Farka Toure if he was influenced by the great John Lee Hooker. He gave me a sharp look and said it was the other way around. And he was right. The blues came to America from slaves from the Sahel, the part of Africa between the Sahara and Forest Africa (principally Mali, Senegal, Niger, Mauretania, and Gambia).
Robert Plant‘s new album is kaleidoscopic, embracing many different musical traditions and styles. The New York Times put the new album into its list of 100 “events that have us especially excited” this season.
When I heard the first track on Robert Plant’s new album lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar. I thought I was listening to Malian music. There was a banjo in it, but remember that the banjo (the word is from the bantu language) originated in Africa; the classic old-timey American instrument originated in Senegambia from the akonting.
This new album shows us that Robert Plant obviously loves West African as well as Moroccan music. Along with fellow Brit Justin Adams and Gambian Juldeh Camara, the new album features tasty sounds of the Moroccan frame drum, the bendir, the West African djembe drum, banjo and its African ancestor, the akonting, and the Malian tehardant, a Malian instrument similar to the ngoni. Finally, there is the kologo, similar to the akonting, and the West African traditional fiddle, the riti.
Robert Plant has always shown an influence of American blues music as this genre was a major inspiration for his former band Led Zeppelin’s music. Their famous song, “Whole Lotta Love” is pretty much a cover of, “You Need Love” which was composed by legendary blues song writer Willie Dixon and first recorded by Muddy Waters. Other Willie Dixon’s songs, “You Shook Me”, “I Can’t Quit You Baby” were also recorded by Led Zeppelin in their style and became popular songs for the band. Plant continued to draw upon inspiration of blues–and a variety of other musical styles of country, folk, gospel, R&B–in the 2007 multi-Grammy winning album Raising Sand with Alison Krauss which was produced by T Bone Burnett and is a brilliant project.
Yet, Robert Planet continues to be a musical explorer and moves the blues into deeper territory, deep into its African roots. Plant loved making this album and it’s his 10th solo album. It is a very personal musical statement that will resonate with world music fans and his longtime fans will not be disappointed in beautifully-done new musical venture.
Here is a track from the new album which was released 9/9/14 on Nonesuch Records: “Little Maggie”.