Few countries in recent years have had more reason to sing the blues than Mali. Insurgencies, government crackdowns, rebellions and the imposition of Sharia law in the North has resulted in significant loss of life and a definite feeling of instability in the country. Mali has a rich history of the blues, and more recently the electric blues as artists of the calibre of Tamikrest, Tinariwen and Basekou Kouyate have all responded musically to their turbulent homeland.
Samba Toure’ third solo album Albala, which means danger, is possibly the most overt. A guitarist and singer, Toure previously worked with Ali Farka Toure in the 90′ it’s impossibly not to hear links with the late great Niger delta bluesman.
From its opening strains you can place it in Mali, as we’ve been so conditioned by the consistently amazing music that has come from there in recent times. Yet there’ a certain brooding darkness to Toure’ sound that’s difficult to put your finger on. It’s peculiar, Albala possesses a relaxed late night feel that truly belies the power of Toure’ message.
â€œAll the killers leave our road, thieves leave our road, looters leave our road, rapists leave our road, betrayers leave our road,â€ he offers on Fondora, a song against violence in Northern Mali. Later in the song, a delicate wisp of a tune held together by a repetitive Soukou (traditional violin) riff, he addresses Sharia law head on. â€œThey say they want to teach us to pray? They only brought hatred violence and sadness.â€
The music is sublime, light jammy blues that seems to drift effortlessly along with all the time and space in the world. There’ a certain subtlety to the playing, delicate cyclical hypnotic guitar riffs and sparse accompaniment. It’s a really compelling bed from which Toure can address his concerns. Over the course of 10 songs he touches corruption, pleads for unity between the different ethnic groups in Mali, sings about water issues, though also about the joys of music and of course love.
With a band consisting of ngoni ba (traditional lute like instrument), congas/djembe percussion, one of the guests curiously is Hugo Race (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) whose guitar and keys on six of the songs add additional complexity without ever calling attention to itself. In fact you wouldn’ be alerted to the presence of a Western musician if not for the liner notes. In fact Albala is produced by Race’ band mate in Dirtmusic, Chris Eckman (Walkabouts) – both were in Mali at the time recording their recent Dirtmusic album.
This is truly compelling music. It’s really difficult to put into words the power this music has. It’s not assertive, not calling attention to itself with dazzling feats of musicianship or exotic flourishes, but frankly once you put it on you wont be able to stop listening to it.
Bob Baker Fish