Samba Touré ‘Wande’ LP/CD/Digital (Glitterbeat) 4/5

This is a great return both to form and to the very roots of Malian blues, following on in the great tradition whilst building on that towering cannon of work and adding his own authentic signature. Recorded in Bamako, this return to a more acoustic and rustic sound has resulted in arguably Samba Touré’s most impressive and well-rounded album to date, this being the third album that follows on from his 2013 debut ‘Albala’. Simple melodies are laid down and then deftly worked over with multi-layered percussion comprising instrumentation such as the calabash, played by Lassine Kouyaté, and complemented in turn by sublime collective harmonies that are repeated over and over again until they reach the deepest levels of the inner subconscious. The title track is an absolute treat and is a gentle, relaxing number with a slow build up before calabash and finally the high-pitched sound of the sokou string instrument (likening it to a violin would be a great disservice, but nonetheless it is probably the nearest western equivalent, but in a West African context it blends in seamlessly with the other percussion instruments).

It is important to recognise at this juncture that the multi-faceted nature of Malian music means that it is invariably difficult to assemble musicians for recording sessions since they often perform at social gatherings such as weddings. Little wonder, then, that these seasoned musicians who regularly perform live are able at will to convey myriad moods and on ‘Hayame’ (Be Careful), it is the beautifully, slow-paced and pared down combination of guitar and calabash that wins the day. If the music is so expertly delivered that is seems like simplicity personified, then the social message behind the lyrics is at once direct and sincere and this is illustrated on the affirmative ‘Irganda’ (It Is Our Land), that leaves no room for ambiguity. There are shades of the early 1970s Rolling Stones, a group that has constantly paid due homage to the blues, in a piece such as, ‘Yerfara’ (We Are Tired), with a bubbling rock-tinged guitar and a stunning talk drum accompaniment. Touré sounds closest to his mentor on ‘Hawah’, with a relaxed mid-tempo pace that proceeds to grow in intensity as the song unravels.

A fitting way to end the album is with a heartfelt tribute to Samba Touré’s heart on ‘Tribute to Zoumana Tereta’, complete with spoken dialogue. The music within comes across as a direct link between the heritage of one John Lee hooker and the late, great Ali Farka Touré. It would be difficult to pay a higher compliment to Samba Touré.

Tim Stenhouse