Bounaly – Dimanche à Bamako (Sahel Sounds)

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I struggled initially with Bounaly’s music, it was too raw, too excessive, with elongated riffing, and rough hewn vocals, it was guitar theatrics on steroids. Surely too much. Yet that’s what inevitably drew me back in. It’s proudly excessive.

Existing in a similar universe, Bounaly makes Vieux Farka Toure, Bombino or even Mdou Moctar seem restrained. This music is about the energy of the moment, of collective euphoria, and its positively addictive. The closest I’ve heard to Bounaly’s excessive ecstatic riffing is Nouakchott Wedding Songs (Sahel Sounds) – raucous wedding songs that exist in the moment, that are as much about the people and place and occasion as the musician and music – maybe more so.

Born in Niafounke, the same town as the great Ali Farka Toure, Bounaly is the nephew of Afel Boucoum, and is an exponent of the Northern Mali desert sound. This, his debut album was recorded live in Mali’s capital Bamako, where Bounaly now resides, after large parts of Northern Mali was taken over by fundamentalists in 2012. In fact many from the North relocated to Bameko, developing a strong community. Dimanche à Bamako (Sunday in Bamako) captures the energy and excitement of a Malian wedding. With songs of 6, 7 or 8 minutes plus, Bounaly is joined by Alousseyni Maïga (Vocals), Abdoulaye Touré dit DJ Sali (Vocals), Mahamadoun Samba dit “Sangho” (Drums) and Ibrahim Cissé dit “Basalah” (Calabash). It’s recorded pretty rudimentally – possibly with one mic, yet that only adds to be immediacy, offering a garage rock feel. The tunes are a mix of traditional and regional standards alongside some originals.

When the electric guitar starts shredding its all over, it consumes everything in its wake. It’s like a switch gets flipped, and while the vocalists shout valiantly in the background, when Bounaly starts riffing its like time stands still and a massive spotlight appears overhead. It’s a little like when Neil Young plays with Crazy Horse or J Mascis with anyone else, where its impossible not to worship at the alter of electric guitar because its louder and more expressive than everything else. All other instrumentation repeats and maintains underneath for Bounaly to take flight, and it’s nothing short of exhilarating. You couldn’t imagine this music created in the studio, or if it was, you couldn’t imagine it possessing the same power. Dimanche à Bamako is about energy and living in the moment. It’s impossible not to get on board – even if it takes a while.

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Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.

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