Mali All Stars:
Although Mali All Stars is a two CD, one DVD (in French) package, you would most likely need four times the content to fully appreciate the diversity and range of music coming out of the Western African country.
However, if the object of Mali All Stars is to whet the appetite, it more than succeeds, specifically with the first CD, tracks ranging in quality from the good to the sublime, from a fraternity of the known (Ali Farka Toure) and – to me at least – the less known, (Bako Dagnon and Nampe Sadio).
At the core of the recording is Studio Bogolan, the Abbey Road of Bamako, where some of the most distinctive contemporary Malian music has been recorded in the past 15 years, specifically since it was sponsored by the late Ali Farka Toure.
The cultural renaissance in Bamako, known in Africa as the capital of sound and vision, the thinking connoisseur ‘s Motown, without the gloss, has made it a Mecca for musicians throughout the world. The good, Damon Albarn, Robert Plant and Keziah Jones, and the debatable, Bjork, who, despite the input of the twenty plus strings of Toumani Diabate’s kora , still sounds like Bjork.
Because contemporary Malian music in its natural state is so addictive, I found the second CD, Mali Around the World, too variegated for my taste. It was easy listening without bite, like listening to the Chieftains and the Rolling Stones murdering The Rocky Road to Dublin: Malian music is so densely rich and unique that it doesn’t require any embellishment from outside .
A minor quibble, however. The 14 artists on the CD who sieve Malian tradition, and reinvent the music within a traditional frame, so that regional styles and the virtues of indigenous acoustic instruments ( Bassekou Kouyate and the ngoni, Toumani Diabate’s kora) coalesce with jazz and blues roots, produce a bountiful spate of sound throughout Mali All Stars.
There is an addictive gene within Malian music at play in Mali All Stars – a fusion of many styles and traditions – which begets an instantly likeable rhythm from the off with Oumou Sangare’s Seya, and courses throughout, from the past (the griot tradition of Bako Dagon) to the future, Vieux Farka Toure’s Sarama. If I could bring just one to a desert island, Toumani Diabate’s Kaira would be a no contest.
They often elude mention in reviews, but the liner notes are extensive and informative, which makes Mali All Stars the go to introduction to contemporary Malian music.