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World Music CD Reviews Africa

Various Artists, Afrissippi

By John Kuhlman
Published March 20, 2007

Midnight In Mali
Stern’s Africa

Fulani Journey
Electric Catfish/Knock Down South

MALI

A pair of tasty items here, for those who enjoy the music from Mali. Midnight In Mali documents an extraordinary concert given at the French Cultural Centre in Bamako, Mali on December 23, 2004. Organized by Habib Koite, the show featured such superstars as guitarist Djelimady Tounkara, n'goni (three-stringed lute) masters Basekou Kouyate and Vieux Kante, singer and kora player Madina N'Diaye, balafonist Keletigui Diabate, and vocalists Djeneba Seck, Zoumana Tereta and Samba Sissoko. Listeners could certainly be forgiven for being unfamiliar with the names, but the music is presented in such a way that the skills on display are unmistakable. The rolling, lazy groove on opening cut “Artistes,” overlaid with interweaving lines of guitar, balafon and n'goni, sets the blueprint for loose open-ended jams quietly exploding with extended, exploratory solos (for instrument and voice) pulled effortlessly from the air.

For a homegrown Malian vibe, consider Fulani Journey, the latest release from Afrissippi, a fresh little African/American R&B combo put together by Guele Gumba, a native of Senegal recently transplanted to Oxford, Mississippi. Gumba’s shimmering guitars and keening vocals meld seamlessly with the electric blues of his American friends. Even better is the a cappella track (treated with subtle electronics) “Bambangel,” where Gumba digs into his own griot heritage and pulls some wonderfully emotive music out of the sounds and rhythms of his native language.

Sadly, the okapi turd on this particular veldt is the title track, a turgid spoken-word account of the African Diaspora inexplicably and ham-fistedly delivered by White Panther icon/dope martyr John Sinclair. It’s unclear what debt is being paid off there, but the album would have been stronger without it.