Aman Iman/Water is Life
We say: Both thumbs up for blues–rock from the dunes of the Sahara
Many lists of "best world music album of 2007" will doubtless be topped by this thrilling collection. The previous albums by these extraordinary musicians and desert tribesmen from the southern Sahara––The Radio Tisdas Sessions of three years ago and Amassakoul last year––now seem to pale in the comparison with this dense, driving, intense, and poetic album which is shot through with mercurial, stinging guitar work.
As produced by Justin Adams the music seems to leap from the disc and while their mesmerisingly repetitive rhythms remain intact guitarist Ibrahim Ag Alhabib now provides barbed wire lines which are as ancient as Mali but seemingly also grounded in Son House and Jimi Hendrix.
They sing of the politics they have endured (three of them were boy soldiers in Ghaddafi's army), the beauty of the empty desert, and the need for peace. It is sub–Saharan blues which sounds like it has been transplanted from the south side of Chicago, but also comes from the deepest places in the soul. A stunner.
Chinese Masterpieces of the Pipa and Qin
We say: A yum cha of delights from old China
Chinese classical music comes with lovely and evocative titles: on this wonderful collection are White Snow in Sunny Spring; Wild Geese Descending on the Sandy Beach; Three Variations on the Plum Blossom; and Flowing Water. Quite how Ambushed on All Sides snuck in is another discussion.
Cheng Yu is a young virtuoso on pipa and qin (the former like a lute, the latter an unfretted seven–string zither) and has been in the forefront of reviving traditional music, especially by recreated the five–string pipa which had not been heard since the 8th century.
The pieces here date from the 15th century and are by turns gentle (Flowing Water where notes bend as a river around rocks), restful (White Snow in Sunny Spring) and lively (Dragon Boat which sounds like Asian bluegrass). With Li Xiangting on xaio (flute) and Wang Ciheng on dizi (bamboo flute)––and excellent liner notes introducing each piece––this is a pleasurable and utterly engaging introduction to traditional Chinese music with someone who brings depth and meaning to the music.
The Rough Guide to African Blues
We say: Ah got them ol' sub–Saharan blues again, mama
In the past few years Damon Alban from Blur/Gorillaz, jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, guitarist Bob Brozman, bluesman Corey Harris and others have all gone to various parts of West Africa––notably Mali––in search of musical origins. Most have run headlong into the distinctive African blues which has been getting high profile though sub–Sahara bands such Etran Finatawa and Tinariwen.
This excellent collection pulls some of those names together: Harris with the late Ali Farka Toure on a track from Harris' Mississippi to Mali album; Brozman with Djeli Moussa Diawara; and the electrifying Etran Finatawa. But it is the less familiar names who shine equally: the soaring blues of Mariem Hassan with her brother on gutsy electric guitar; the acoustic style of Nuru Kane from Senegal; the aching vocals of Boubacar Traore from Mali…
The typically informative liner notes are a hallmark of Rough Guide collections, and here too is a computer accessible interview with the compiler Phil Stanton. A fine primer.
Vieux Farka Toure
Vieux Farka Toure
We say: The son also rises
The late Ali Farka Toure from Mali actively discouraged his son Vieux from becoming a musician and sent him into the army instead. It's a weird world when the military life is considered the safer option. However the young Toure (a guitarist/singer like his dad) enrolled in an arts college and won his father over, eventually joining his band.
Despite his encroaching cancer, his father (who died last year) appears on a couple of tracks here, Vieux's debut.
It's a fair comment that like other famous sons and daughters (Femi Kuti and Anoushka Shankar spring to mind), Vieux lack the gravitas of his more famous parent, but that takes little away from this confident debut where his guitar parts shimmer and he benefits from having the great kora player Toumani Diabate on hand.
The leisurely instrumental Tabara and the twanging Diallo with his father on lead are certainly standouts, but elsewhere Vieux offers a more modern take on this music when he branches out into chipping reggae with a European band (Ana) and brings in a jazzy quality (the flute passages on Ma Hine Cocore).
But Vieux is also very much the son of his father and acknowledges the traditions, especially on the tracks with Diabate; the pensive Toure de Niafunke and the 10–minute closer named for the kora player.
For a debut album this is very impressive indeed.
Graham Reid is an award–winning New Zealand travel writer, music writer and journalist. His book Postcards From Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year award, and his website www.elsewhere.co.nz features travel stories, photos, rock'n'roll reminiscences, and a weekly music review in which he posts tracks from albums which have gone past radio programmers and other reviewers.
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