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World Music CD Reviews Africa

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba

By Doug Merlino
Published February 19, 2008

Segu Blue
Out Here Records

Bassekou Kouyate has played as a sideman for such legends as Toumani Diabate and Ali Farka Toure, but this terrific debut album marks him as yet another world-class artist from Mali to watch for. Kouyate plays the ngoni—a four-stringed instrument with a sound that suggests a cross between a banjo and a guitar—and his band Ngoni Ba (“Big Ngoni”) features three other ngoni players who cover the bass, midrange and treble registers. Together they produce a lush tapestry of sound reminiscent of a cascading kora, with individual lines sliding over each other and coalescing into a hypnotic whole. The use of the pentatonic scale—the traditional scale of the Bambara culture—gives the music a tonality that’s unmistakably similar to American blues, though the overall feeling is celebratory. Also worth noting is Kouyate’s wife, Ami Sacko, who sings lead on most of the 14 songs here, and the understated percussion ensemble. This is a beautiful, gripping album, and a must for anyone who loves Malian music.