Following the 2012 takeover of Northern Mali by Islamic fundamentalist groups – in which the attempts of implementing sharia resulted in popular music being banned – and the January 2013 French intervention, 2013 ended up being perhaps the finest year for Malian music. Now, with two fine albums released this year, one of which is a fantastic celebration of Malian music as a whole, 2014 is looking to be a great year for it as well.
“The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali” (World Music Network)
Since it opens with “Jama Ko,” the title track from Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba’s tremendous 2013 album, you might think that this compilation is going to stick to the basics. These albums are called rough guides for a reason, and picking 13 songs to represent an entire genre, even for an audience that might not care enough to check out such must-haves as “Jama Ko” or Oumou Sangare’s “Seya,” is tricky. At the same time, this album does feature plenty of hidden gems, it moves along at a nice pace and any attempt to make more people aware of Mali is O.K. with me. The bonus disc, meanwhile, is a full album from Samba Touré.
Grade: A MINUS
Tinariwen: “Emmaar” (Anti)
Recorded in California after band members fled Mali, this record rocks harder than most American musicians are capable of. The bluesy instrumentals are droney without being boring, and the vocals hit hard. Even if you don’t speak the language, you can still hear their frustration in a way that’s reminiscent of how rebellious rock and roll once was. Key track: “Tahalamot.”
Grade: A MINUS