Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba: Jama Ko – album review


Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba – Jama Ko (Out Here Records)
LP / CD / DL
Released 28 January 2013

It’s fair to say I’d never heard of Bassekou Kouyate before listening to this album, and, sometimes that can be a huge advantage. No preconceptions as to how it should sound, no thoughts of it not being as good as previous releases; a purely honest and independent view. What I have found with Jama Ko is a collection of songs that left me very very impressed.

From the press release information, he sounds a pretty sought after chap. Nominated for a Grammy with his last album, I Speak Fula, which called for peace in his homeland of Mali, he’s recently played with Damon Albarn, John Paul Jones and Paul McCartney.

For those who don’t know (I do now), a ngoni is a large lute. Bassekou was taught to play it by his father, Moustapha who himself was an accomplished musician though he never made any recordings, believing that God would punish him if recordings were played after his death. His mother, Yakare, was a necessity at weddings in the Segu area – a well-known singer, ceremonies were known to be cancelled if she wasn’t available to sing at them! She too was not allowed to record.

The musical legacy continues in the Kouyate family with all seven of Bassekou’s brothers and sisters being musicians, Bassekou himself shocked his father when he displayed a talent for playing tunes on the ngoni within minutes of picking the instrument up. The guy clearly has a gift like no other, and, listening to the album only endorses that.

You know when you have a diverse album when it could almost be a compilation, the styles are so different – ‘traditional’ African, gospel, blues, even ’60s psychedelia influences.

Opener and title track Jama Ko (which means ‘big gathering of people’) gives us an instant taste of what a ngoni passed through a wah pedal and cranked up amp sounds like. Almost Spanish in influence to begin with and moving into a delightful summery eastern feel with a great hook in the chorus. A delightful tune.

Sinaly continues in a similar vein, really getting you into the feel and sound of the ngoni very early on. The vocals of lead singer Amy Sacko are stunning throughout the album.

Dankou has a male vocal courtesy of Zoumana Tereta, an almost freestyle, intuitive feel, and dare I say, in a Hendrix style. Superb work from Kouyate leading the other three ngoni players on the album. There’s an incredibly frenetic percussion steaming away throughout Ne Me Fatigue Pas which only endorses the English translation – Don’t Wear Me Out. Again, some stunning string work on several solo’s over a sometimes skiffle-esque beat. Amazing stuff.

Guest singer on Kele Magni, Khaira Arby has a quite fantastic voice in her stirring call for peace. That is all.

One of the many highlights of the album comes in the form of the John Lee Hooker tinged, Mali Koori (Cotton Song). A superb slab of authentic blues with a Malian slant. Again with the vocals of Tereta, this track is seemingly faultless. The melody will simply not leave you.

Jama Ko was recorded in the capital of Mali, Bamako, with the inclusion of Bassekou’s Sons Madou and Moustafa. It’s a call for peace and unity and tolerance through crisis and the emotion of the album is strongly felt on Wagadou. A quite untouchable vocal which sends shivers down every inch of your spine. Haunting and powerful over a very sparse backing allows the track to soar.

After a short stay on your imaginary beach basking in the sun and taking in the easy listening of Segu Jajiri comes a song in both French and English and featuring the guest vocals of Taj Mahal together with Kouyate. A touch of Howlin’ Wolf thrown in for exceedingly good measure on another bluesy track.

And all too soon it’s over. You almost instinctively know that Moustafa (sung by Moustafa) is a touching song. It just sounds sumptuous and is a tribute to his parents for the life they have given him. Time to hit the replay button.

This is a wonderous album of quite brilliant quality. If you’re becoming bored with your usual fix of music then I strongly recommend you listen to this. An early contender for inclusion in any Best of 2013 listings.

All words by Paul Scott-Bates. You can read more from Paul on LTW here.

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