Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba ‘Jama Ko’ (Out Here) 4/5

Amidst the social unrest of recent months in Mali comes a wonderful acoustic performance from one of the instrumental masters of West African music. Virtuoso musician Bassekou Kouyaté performs on the ngoni, a type of four-stringed lute from a tradition that dates back several generations. On his latest offering Kouyaté retains the warm, immediate sound of old, but this time round expands it with some other subtle stylistic innovations, best of which is the glorious ‘Ne me fatigue pas (Don’t tire me out)’ that has an intoxicating Afro-beat rhythm, complete with talking drum and shuffling beat. Female lead vocals are once again handled by Basskou’s wife Amy Sacko and she combines beautifully with background singers on the title track, but this is actually far more a family affair than you might think for now sons Madou and Moustafa are part of the band as well as host of guest singers who turn up throughout this recording. Fellow maestro Kasse Mady Diabaté takes control of lead vocals on ‘Sinaly’ which is the catchiest of melodies and at an especially rapid rhythm from the outest. A new voice to some will be Zoumana Tereta, who featured on the previous album, and here performs on three songs including ‘Dangou’. Blues giant Taj Mahal even makes an appearance on ‘Poye Z’. This is a fine album that will remain long on the ear and in the soul. Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba will be performing at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow during late January and then at selected venue during a brief European tour. Thereafter they hope to be performing mid-February in the Malian desert as part of an evening for peace and national unity. With the healing quality of the music contained within, their own cultural contribution to reuniting the Malian people will be greatly appreciated. Tim Stenhouse