Djessou Mory Kanté ‘River Strings – Maninka Guitar’ (Sterns) 5/5

djessou-mory-kantéOnce in a while an African or Latin American musician comes along and blows the listener away with an album that is quite simply a breath of fresh air. Such is the case of this new offering from Guinean guitarist Djessou Mory Kanté (not to be confused with the musician Mory Kanté). The timeless sound gives this recording all the feel of something that could have been released in the 1970s in either Africa or say Cuba, and is an all instrumental affair of some distinction. The relatively concise (by African standards at least) thirteen tracks makes for an album with no filler and plenty of joyous moments along the way and, despite the assortment of percussion to aid proceedings such as calabash, djembe and doumdoube, this is in reality a pared down recording and it is all the better for that. What really comes across is the interweaving of layers between guitars and the subtlest hint of external musical influences, including flamenco guitar, without it ever being a deliberate attempt at world roots fusion. The wonderfully melodic ‘Senekela’ recalls the great Ambassadeurs and is a stunning multi-layered number. On the opener ‘Cocuou’ the emphasis is firmly on guitar virtuosity and both the leader and fellow guitarist Kerfala Kanté engage in some delightful exchanges. The intricate number ‘Nan Koura’ is where the flamenco component is most evident, and possibly Kanté has listened to Spanish guitar master Segovia at some point and is a lovely intimate composition. Another layered guitar number is ‘Toubaka’ and it should come as little surprise that musicians of the calibre of John Williams have covered Kanté’s compositions or that the leader has been a regular member of Salif Keita’s band. On this evidence, he fully deserves to be considered as a major artist in his own right. At a time when some in western society would seek to stigmatise Africans, this recording shows just what Africans are fully capable of when they have the creative resources at their disposal. If Joe Zawinul were still alive, he would have loved to play on such a recording. A candidate for new African album of the year.

Tim Stenhouse