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I speak Fula by Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba
Reviewed by Chris Newby
Anyone who has seen Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba perform live will know how powerful their performances can be, both from the sound of the ngoni (a traditional stringed instrument, seen as an ancestor of the American banjo) and the brilliant and sometimes piercing vocals of Amy Sacko. This second album is no letdown and goes a long way to recreating that force. Guest performances from guest musicians, such as Vieux Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate, add to the quality.
This is generally a very uplifting album. The energy of the first three tracks will make you want to get up and start dancing. I speak Fula expresses a lot of hope and positive feeling. The opening track, I speak Fula, is about developing unity between two ethnic groups, the Bamana and the Fula. Track two talks about the hopes that were raised throughout the world and probably very sharply in Africa with the election of Obama. Many of the tracks refer to Mali's history.
Saro and Bambugu blues have a strong blues feel to them. These tracks have contributions from Vieux Farka Toure, son of the legendary Malian blues player Ali Farka Toure. Then follows some of the slower, perhaps more traditional, tracks. The hauntingly beautiful and incredibly powerful voice of Amy Sacko features throughout.
Bassekou Kouyate has been a major influence on the development of the ngoni instrument and the way it is played. Traditionally the ngoni was played sitting down, but in the middle of a concert in the mid-1980s he walked up to the front of the stage and started to play the ngoni standing up and strapped over his shoulder much in the same way as an electric guitar. In recent years he has introduced a very low bass ngoni and has added extra strings to develop range and harmonics.
However there are some contradictory messages, particularly on the role of women in society. In the sleeve notes to the song that Bassekou wrote dedicated to his partner Amy, it describes Amy as being "humble and knows her place". Amy is a key contributor to the band and this album and the band itself, without her, would be a lot poorer. But also what does this say about the role of women generally?
Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba have helped to bring the sound of this instrument to an audience around the world. The release of this album is linked to a series of concerts around the UK. If you can get a ticket, go see them.
In The Socialist 7 October 2009:
War and occupation
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis