Album Review: Words: Phil Vanderyken




Fatoumata Diawara ‘Fenfo’  (Republic Of Music)  Available Now

This is such a beautiful record.

For every action there is a re-action. As bigotry, xenophobia and ultra-nationalism appear to be gaining ground all over the Western world, there is also a surprisingly fast growing popularity for what once would have been called “world music”, that is, music from anywhere but the UK or the US. In the age of globalization and a hyper-connected world, it’s only logical that human beings from very different parts of the world discover each other’s culture and all kinds of interesting and new musical hybrids are springing up. And there is a growing audience for it.

Immigration is of course, the key development that is making this happen. It brings us bands like The Turbans and the Brickwork Lizards in the UK who make a kind of music that is truly multicultural, bringing together British musicians with first and second-generation immigrants, communicating through the universal language that is music. In the US, Kronos Quartet collaborated with Trio da Kali from Mali on their stellar album Ladilikan, a multicultural mini-masterpiece.

Multiculturalism has also been making inroads into pop music. In France, pop star Indira is of Algerian, Cambodian, Egyptian and Indian descent. Her music pulls influences from hip hop, reggae, gypsy swing, raga and more to create a unique style of irresistible pop music that has been very successful.

Fatoumata Diawara’s case is somewhat different. The actress, singer and musician was born in Ivory Coast of Malian parents before immigrating to Paris as a teenager in order to escape the pressures of her traditionalist family. Fatoumata sings in her native language, and her music is deeply rooted in her culture. Her first album Fatou could be described as acoustic African pop and received praise from the likes of Pitchfork. In contrast Fenfo, her second album, incorporates elements of pop, funk, and rock into a very popular hybrid that has wooed audiences in Europe and the US while still very much remaining quintessentially African.

I first became aware of Fatoumata through the beautiful music video for her song ‘Nterini’, the opening track, a very moving and current song about a refugee who has been separated from his beloved, trying to make his way to a better future for himself and his family.

Fatoumata does not shy away from controversial topics. She sings about slavery, female genital mutilation, a practice that is still very common in Africa today, and the ban on marriages between different ethnic groups. But she does so without rancour or negativity, and her music is deeply joyous and full of life, practically jumping out of the speakers.

‘Kokoro’ is the kind of desert blues popularized by the Touareg guitarist Bombino, featuring soaring psychedelic lead guitar like Hendrix camped out in the Sahara.

‘Mama’ is a tender acoustic ballad with acoustic guitar and majestic cello, over which Fatoumata’s world-weary vocals hover and soar.

‘Bonya’ is the most poppy track of the album, with a sing along chorus and a solid funk vibe that would not sound out of place on a Suffers record. Sweetly meandering guitar lines keep bringing the listener’s mind back to the steppes and townships of Africa.

As if to drive home the virtuosic eclecticism of this release, ‘Dibi Bo’ sounds like a mix of Afropop and Motown, whereas ‘Don Do’ is a subdued ending to the album, another acoustic offering that combines guitar and cello, showcasing Fatoumata’s stunning vocal delivery one last time.

Fenfo is an ambitious, far-reaching record that combines many strands of music while remaining firmly rooted in African culture. There is nothing ‘naïve’ about the album’s sunny optimism and joyous energy. Rather, it is a stubborn celebration of life, in spite of all the challenges, hardships and ugliness one faces. Fenfo is a deeply spiritual declaration of love for the world and everyone in it. This album makes me happy and gives me hope for the future.





Words: Phil Vanderyken

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ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona



Vieux Farka Touré  ‘Samba’
Six Degrees Records,  12th May 2017

Lucky enough to have witnessed firsthand the erudite guitar majestic skills of one of Mali’s leading artists last year, as part of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival line-up, I still find myself decidedly jealous of the intimate small audience that were invited to Vieux Farka Touré’s Woodstock Session later that same year in October. A studio recording with a difference, played out and developed live in front of just fifty lucky people in Saugerties, N.Y., Touré’s latest blurs the boundaries between performance and the processes of making an album.

Ever the consummate maestro and backed by an equally accomplished band of musicians, there was some initial apprehension on Touré’s on allowing an audience in to the studio. Though we have the finished product, free of any mistakes, restarts and disagreements, it seems this audience far from unnerving the band, egged it on, with the results sounding effortless and natural. There were overdubs of course and one of the songs was recorded back home in Mali – the calabash driven Ni Negarba. But far from cutting corners or relying on the back catalogue, Touré has fashioned an entirely new songbook of vocal and instrumental material for Samba. Some of which amorphously touches upon unfamiliar influences, including reggae on the unapologetically roots-y swaying Ouaga.

 

Still a commanding presence, though he makes it look easy and so serene, emanating almost uninterrupted waves of phaser-effect guitar permutations and nuanced fretboard noodling, Touré continues to languidly merge his own lyrical form of worship and goodwill with the blues, rock and R&B. Often alluded to as some kind of Saharan Hendrix, his heritage and reputation is actually linked to the more urbane capital of Bamako in the southwest of Mali, which has its very own amalgamation of styles and unique history. Still, those desert blues styles, synonymous with the Tuareg especially, do crossover and can be detected in Touré’s music.

 

Touré is as the Songhai title of his new album Samba translates, the second son of the late Ali Farka Touré, a doyen of the Mali music scene himself who left an indelible mark. If we expand on the title’s meaning, “Samba” is a byword for “one who never breaks”, “who never runs from threats, who is not afraid”. It is even said that those adorned with the name are “blessed with good luck.” Inspired by his ancestry, imbued with three generations, Touré’s album is suffused with special tributes to his family. In the mode of a praise song, the spindly weaved heartfelt Mariam pays homage to the last born of the family, his youngest sister, but is also by extension a paean to both the women of the Peule and “all sisters of the world”. Samba Si Kari, based on a song Touré’s grandfather used to sing to him as a child, pays a reflective impassioned tribute to his parents. Expanding the goodwill further, to those outside the ancestral line, he’s also penned, what sounds like, a hoof-cantering percussive camel ride with celestial desert sky illuminations keyboard – courtesy of old pal Idan Raichel –, sweet dedication to his manager and friend Eric Herman’s daughter Maya. The press release offers a further subtext to this particular song, one of multifaith cohesion; Touré a Muslim and Herman a Jew, spreading a message of tolerance.

 

Outside the family sphere, Touré confronts both Mali’s recent Jihadist takeover – only stopped and defeated by the intervention of the country’s former colonial masters, France – on the radiantly rippling, chorus of voices, funky blues number Homafu Wawa, and environmental issues on the dexterously nimble-fingered bluesy rock, Nature.

 

The almost never-ending efflux, the constant lapping waves of textures that Touré plays, which offer a cyclonic bed on which to add the deftest licks, have never sounded so sagacious and free flowing. This ain’t no Saharan Hendrix at work, this is something else entirely, and better for it. This is the devotional, earthy soul of Mali, channeled through a six-string electric guitar.

 

Originally scheduled for 2015, the Woodstock Session would have still been a revelatory showcase and classic, but with that extra year, with the travails of being in constant demand on the road and the rapid turn of events Samba in 2017 makes even more sense, resonating with a message of respect, peace and tolerance.





REVIEW
Words: Ayfer Simms


Retoryka - Monolith Cocktail

Retoryka   ‘Enhanced  Techniques  I.’  &  ‘Enhanced  Techniques  II.  EPs’
Released  by  Everyday  Life  Recordings,  20th  January  2017

Retoryka hooks its amplifiers somewhere in the horizon, to let their sound blow with the four winds, standing perfectly tranquil amid the chaos and commotion they create with their instruments: there’s a party under a shade.

Dazed, rapturous and noisy, underground and yet classy, peaceful even, the melodic vintage compositions of the band are like masses of energy breaking down in brief fluttering lethal notes, all mingling together in a distorted tireless ensemble.

The tunes under that shade give the spotlights to well-approved guitar swirls, whilst turmoil prevails in the tiny details of all the tracks. Retoryka seems to go loose, walking gleefully along a greasy and messy road full of complexity because different styles collide and merge, the same way they would on a newly forming galaxy. At first we feel off balanced and then the cohesion miraculously appears.

Our feet are dangling from a truck; we are dizzy while the music plays. The instruments’ cords slowly become our umbilical sweaty bond that provides us with nourishment and an ear-splitting nursery rhythm to our nights.

These are destructive younglings, in search, of the perfect shriek, with sprouting shy impressions in the first EP and calmer ripened attitude in the second. In contrast the vocals are soft and endearing, welcoming, like the soft touch of a wobbly titan.

The notes and the guitar may show some rebellious arching but the listen is all around light, with agreeable melodies and “safe” spurts of the instruments.





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