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Putumayo Presents Mali
(Putumayo World Music, 2005, PUT 236-2)
Review Date: October 2007
by Steve Mainwaring
People think of Africa generically as producing fast, energetic and extremely danceable music, like South African mbaqanga, Zimbabwean jit or Ghanaian high-life. The music of the countries on the Western coast of the continent – Mali, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea – is usually gentler. The melodic and rhythmic repetition can make it almost hypnotic, particularly when the harp-like kora or balafon (similar to a xylophone) are played. There are other styles, such as the ‘desert blues’ played by the likes of Tinariwen, Ali Farka Toure and Afel Bocoum, but nothing approaches the energy levels of the music further south. This music still swings, but more like a cotton skirt in the breeze than a wrecker’s ball.
Some well-known names are present on this CD, such as Tinariwen, Boubacar Traore, Issa Bagayoga and Habib Koite (one of the few artists actually signed to Putumayo, who mostly specialise in compilations). More well-known names are absent; I’ll return to that later. In compensation we get introduced to some newer names like Moussa Diallo and Keletigui Biabate (who may be in his seventies but he’s still new to me) and I was glad to make their acquaintance.
The standard of music and recording is high throughout and the presentation of this CD is up to Putumayo’s usual standards. They give us notes in English, Spanish and French, about Mali generally and each specific track, with photos of the performers. There is a recipe for meat in peanut sauce (‘for a vegetarian option, you can omit the meat’). The CD is ‘enhanced’, with a good video of a performance by Habib Koite that you can watch on your PC.
The liner notes admit ‘We had hoped to include tracks by well-known Malian artists Oumou Sangare, Salif Keita and Rokia Traore, but we were, regrettably, unable to obtain the necessary permissions’. Generally compilations like this and the excellent Rough Guide series are aimed either at beginners looking for an entry point to another culture’s music or people who don’t want to dive in too deep, for whom one CD is enough. Either way, the absence of the names mentioned, not to mention others one might expect on such a CD, like Toumani Diabate, Tartit, the (Super) Rail Band and Ali Farka Toure, is a serious defect. Another compilation called ‘Mali Lolo’ includes all of the artists mentioned above except Salif Keita and I would point you to that or ‘The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali and Guinea’ as your first port of call. If you enjoy them enough to want more, you could confidently buy this. It’s good music well presented, just falling slightly short of being the best.
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