Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba ‘Miri’ LP/CD (Out Here) 5/5

After an excursion into a more electronic sound with ‘Ba Power’ (2015), ngoni maestro returns with a more acoustic folk groove that harks back to the well received debut, ‘Segu Blue’ (2007). What immediately communicates this time round is the sheer virtuosity of the musicianship, and that is greatly aided by a beautifully clear quality of recording. Some of the duets are breathtakingly stunning, such as that between ngoni and oud, the latter courtesy of guest Moroccan player Majid Bekkas, on the opener, ‘Kanougnon, which has a strong gospel feel to it’. A new avenue to explore in greater depth on a future project is surely the Afro-Cuban ode, ‘Wele Cuba’, where the ngoni plays the surrogate role of Latin piano vamp and on this most uptempo of numbers, guest vocals by Yasel Gonzalez Ruvera from reggaeton group Madera Limpia add just the right touch of Afro-Latin flavours backed up by a strong female chorus. How about an entire album of this kind of material at some point? This is a strong contender for the album’s most compelling song. Elsewhere, it is the instrumental passages that impress as with, ‘Deli’, where calabesh and ngoni combine before the number slowly picks up with the female chorus, or in the combination of bass and lead ngoni on the title track, with Ami Sacko ably taking care of lead vocal duties. In a more laid back groove, singer Abdoulaye Diabaté contributes vocals on ‘Fanga’, whereas on the uptempo, ‘Yaharo’, it is calabesh and ngoni in tandem that make the collective female vocals sound special. For historical awareness and technical prowess, look no further than the blues-tinged ‘Wele ni’, where Kouyaté deploys a bottleneck on the ngoni to create a sound akin to the Hawaiian steel guitar which is most unexpected, yer works to perfection and the vocals of Diabaté recount the story of old Segou. An early contender for the best new African roots album of the year, then, and one hopes that when listeners have time to fully digest the music, Bassekou Kouyaté and group will return once more to the UK for a longer tour. An all too brief late January series of concerts has included the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow on 25 January and the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 30 January. This is one artist that needs to be seen during the hot summer months too.

Tim Stenhouse

Read also:
Bassekou Kouyaté and Nogoni Ba @ Band on the Wall 2009
Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba ‘Jama Ko’ (Out Here) 4/5
Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba ‘Ba Power’ LP/CD (Glitterbeat) 4/5