ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona
Band Photo Credit: Karim Diarra

Samba Touré ‘Binga’
(Glitterbeat Records) 9th April 2021

Learning his craft as a member of the late and iconic Ali Farka Touré band, the Malian guitar star and artist Samba Touré soon found his own voice and signature style when he began a career as bandleader in the 90s. Samba’s wonderings and spirit of curiosity has seen him weave his Songhoy heritage with rock ‘n’ roll, r ‘n’ b and the blues to much acclaim; both nationally and internationally.

Yet for most of that time, especially within the last decade, this musical legacy has been created during the turbulence of war, drought, insurgencies and coups. Most of which Samba has addressed on his last three albums for the highly prolific global showcase label Glitterbeat Records. Two of those albums, Albala and Gandadiko, were both produced during the (still ongoing) Islamist terror group insurgency that more or less hijacked Mali’s Tuareg militants fight for an autonomous state within the Saharan bordering regions of the country. Spared at least some of the worst violence and atrocities having left his village home in the rural Malian region of Binga as a young man to find work in the capital of Bamako, Samba managed to record some most entrancing, captivating work; most of which called for unity and especially – a subject it seems very dear to his heart – issued calls to open the schools in Mali hit by security problems, strikes, but also in the last year, the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. On Samba’s fourth release for the label, and a nod to his homely roots, Binga, he channels a wizened, grizzled Muddy Waters on the stately blues and stoic but incandescent with angry cries ‘Atahas’; a song, more like a protest, against the sorry state of education in the country.

As if the tumult couldn’t be even more, well…tumultuous; after halting the Islamist militants with the help of former colonialists France, the Malian army is currently in the frontline with units from Chad, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, alongside the UN, in multiple operations to stave off Isis affiliated groups on the Mali borders and in its neighbor’s backyards. Attacks on government targets, soldiers and civilians continue unabated however: even as recent as January 2021.

With all these pressures, Mali’s own government continues to lurch from one crisis to the next; an uneasy interim style leadership, peppered by young officers from the Army who staged a coup back in the summer of last year (the exact same time this album was recorded), currently holds power. That coup’s leader, Colonel Assimi Goita, holds the title of Vice President, though this is only until elections are held later in the year.

Reminiscing of better times, or at least a ‘golden epoch’ in the greater region’s history, Samba’s new album features an opening and bookended tribute to songs from the Songhoy era; an empire that once stretched across most of the Western Sahel, the largest such kingdom in Africa during the 15th and 16th centuries. That empire’s crowning glory, Timbuktu, lies just 100 Km from Samba’s birthplace: It’s reverence, almost destroyed in the recent fighting, still inspires. Covering a couplet of traditional Songhoy fair, Samba and his intimate band join a great legacy of compatriots who’s also covered, interrupted atavistic songs from that period. Recounting the exploits of that tradition’s ‘great figures’, Samba’s version of the ‘Tamala’ standard is helped along on its way by his relaxed signature weaves of trickled and nimbly spun notes, played over a sinking but rooted bluesy rhythm. With a courtly evocation, and the harmonized vocal accompaniment of guest Djeneba Diakité, Samba softly flows with a little buoyancy across a Sahel vision. ‘Terey Kongo’ meanwhile is almost elliptical in its rhythm; almost sensual to a point; a nice wash in fact for a tale about admiring looks at the Malian women on the riverbank, observed on a trip down the Niger river towards Timbuktu.

Drawing back a little from the fuller sound of his previous album Wande – Samba’s bass player having now moved to the States – Samba mainstays Djimé Sissoko (on the ngoni) and Souleymane Kane (on calabash) move in close and intimately on what’s billed as the Malian virtuoso’s ‘most personal album yet’. This trio is augmented in parts with the most subtle of brooding low synthesized atmospherics, some country waned harmonica and additional shaken and tub patting percussion. Nothing ever quite breaks out, yet the sound is full, deep and resonating all the same; and above all, just as hypnotic: like a dipped motion camel ride across the desert plains. It’s a beautiful undulated journey that features jammed horizon mirages (the matter of fact entitled ‘Instrumental’) and elegiac reverent tributes (‘Kola Cissé).  

Once more Samba Touré embodies the music of the Songhoy on an album of mixed blessings: the bittersweet in counterpoint with sagacious optimism. Returning to the source, geographically and creatively, the Binga albums is as soulful as it is bluesy; as courtly as it is traversing; and a really satisfying immersive experience all round from one of Mali’s greatest exports.

See also…

Samba Touré ‘Gandadiko’   

Samba Touré ‘Wande’

Glitterbeat Records 5th Anniversary Special

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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