Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
July 2015 - By Graham Reid

In this issue: Exciting rock'n'soul from West Africa to the world, more but different again from the Democratic Republic of Congo and an overlooked collection of Palestinian music.





Ba Power
Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba

We say: Ngoni master from Mali buys into rock but doesn't sell out.

Purists will doubtless shudder at the direction this Mali master of the traditional ngoni, a small lute-like instrument, has taken since his breakthrough eight years ago. But he's not turning back. Here, under a title which translates to "strong power" and some read as a reference to the Stooges' pre-punk classic "Raw Power," he plugs in his instrument, distorts the sounds, plays it with wah-wah pedal and generally rocks out.

This is spaciously produced live in a Bamako studio by Chris Eckman (formerly of the Walkabouts and Willard Grant Conspiracy, also producer of next generation Sahara blues stars Tamikrest).

These nine songs give Kouyate and his vibrant band plenty of space to stretch out on songs of suffering and hope. There are stellar guests (trumpeter Jon Hassell, drummer Dave Smith from Robert Plant's Sensational Space Shifters) but it is Kouyate's mercurial and mesmerizing ngoni and the powerful, soul-filled voice of his wife Amy Sacko which are always in the site-lines.

Kouyate considers this his rock-influenced album and it certainly stands apart from his other work. In places this is brittle, abrasive and searing, at other times hypnotically enticing and certainly dance-directed. But it is always infused with that strong power—lyrical or musical—which its title alludes to.

Quite something.






From Kinshasa
Mbongwana Star

We say: Expect the unexpected, but expect to dance and smile.

When pundits try to anticipate musical trends you can stop them quickly by asking, "Would you have predicted Memphis in the mid-50s, Liverpool in the early 60s, or a guy from the dirt-poor streets of Jamaica?"

And while many world music aficionados were gearing up for the Portuguese fado trend about a decade ago along came Sahara blues and, more recently, the unpredictable sounds out of Kinshasa where there seems an unnatural explosion of talent. Already from that source there have been artists under the loose "Congotronics" banner who create strange magic out of cheap electronics and battered instruments.

This debut by Mbongwana Star—a seven piece founded by former members of Staff Benda Bilili— is bound to catch many wrong-footed for its hip-hop influenced blend of Congolese rumba and electronics. Produced by Paris-based Liam Farrell (aka Dr L), this is an off-kilter, mashed-up exploration of rumba'n'roll, UK-styled post-punk basslines, oddball vocals and chipping guitar-funk beats.

Here's a consumer warning-cum-guarantee. If you start with the roll and tumble of the opener "From Kinshasa to the Moon", you'll not be able to predict where this good-natured album goes after that. And ask yourself, would you have guessed Kinshasa?






The Rough Guide to the Music of Palestine
Various Artists

We say: A fine collection of music by artists under the gun, sometimes literally.

Although released last year, this excellent collection sank without a trace and deserves acknowledgement for its diversity—traditional and modern in a seamless weave—as well as having an excellent bonus disc by bouzouk player Ramzi Aburedwan, "Reflections of Palestine".

A few big names are here—Le Trio Joubran, oud master Hosam Hayek, the great singer Amal Murkus—but among the outstanding tracks is the melange of hip-hop and yearning soulful vocals on "If I Could Go Back in Time" by Dam with Murkus. The artists come from the occupied territories, Israel and elsewhere, and the music, from jazzy reggae to folk-rock and songs learned in childhood, is utterly engaging. And, of course, sometimes ineffably sad.






Graham Reid is a New Zealand—based travel/music/arts writer whose first book Postcards from Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year Award in New Zealand. His second book The Idiot Boy Who Flew won the Whitcoulls Reader Choice award and is available through www.amazon.com. He hosts his own wide-screen website www.elsewhere.co.nz and his most recent travels have been through India, odd parts of China, the Australian Outback and Jordan. He likes deserts..

See the last round of music reviews from Graham Reid.



Also in this issue:

Ba Power

Buy Ba Power online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK



From Kinshasa

Buy From Kinshasa online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK





The Rough Guide to the Music of Palestine

Buy The Rough Guide to the Music of Palestine online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK



Sign Up