Monday, 18 May 2015

Kadialy Kouyate & Leonard Jacome - Rhythms of the Atlantic

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 108, June 2015.

Kadialy Kouyate & Leonard Jacome
Rhythms of the Atlantic
Self-released (42 mins)

The premise of this album may seem a little familiar: a cross-cultural harp collaboration between Senegalese kora maestro Kadialy Kouyate and Venezuelan harpist Leonard Jacome. It’s unfortunate but inevitable that any work will now be compared to Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita’s stunning 2013 release Clychau Dibon, but don’t make the mistake of thinking this album will be the-same-but-different.

Whereas the earlier fusion revelled in the ethereal qualities of the instruments, Kouyate and Jacome use theirs to groove. The harp’s lower register provides often funky basslines that, along with the unobtrusive calabash of Mamadou Sarr, give the Mandé griot and Venezuelan Joropo melodies the ground to dance on.

Most of the pieces here are written by Kouyate (save for the cheerful ‘Kora Ralencina’ and the harp solo ‘Solo con mis Cuerdas’, both by Jacome), and it is the Venezuelan’s harp that provides many of the thicker textures and most versatile timbres – at various times sounding like a harpsichord, jazz guitar or glockenspiel – but really, to analyse each musician’s individual role feels a little disingenuous, so tightly do the two string players intertwine.

This is a great and different album – don’t be fooled into making easy comparisons.

Kala Jula (Samba Diabaté & Vincent Zanetti) - Sangoyi

First published in fRoots issue 384, June 2015

Kala Jula (Samba Diabaté & Vincent Zanetti)
Buda Musique (55 mins)

This collaboration between Malian griot guitarist Diabaté and Swiss multi-instrumentalist Zanetti is now in its fourth year, and with Sangoyi, bears its second album – the first as a strict duo.

Zanetti has worked with Sahelian music for nearly thirty years, in both West Africa and Europe, setting up a collaborative ballet along the way, and calls the Mandé lands his adopted home. This doesn’t necessarily come across in his music.

Most of the tracks contained here are unfortunately bland. Although the fusion of Malian and Western styles is pulled off quite smoothly, it doesn’t feel as if either particularly benefit from it: the music of the Mandé griots is reduced by the soft-rock folk, but the European's music doesn’t feel as if it could stand on its own, either.

When they hit into a groove, as they do in the track ‘Le Lion de Ségou’ (where they’re joined by trumpeter Yannick Barman), it seems amazing that they can keep the track from spiralling into an epic jam. It’s a little disappointing that they don’t, as these tracks finish leaving the listener wanting more.

The fact is that the majority of this album is just boring – sedate and calm enough to perhaps work well as background music, but reveals very little substance under any scrutiny…and this is even more of a shame as it containing one or two genuinely enjoyable and interesting tracks.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Manuel Diogo - Music of Angola

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 108, June 2015.

Manuel Diogo
Music of Angola
ARC Music (50 mins)

Manuel Diogo’s style is described as ‘traditional and contemporary Angolan gospel music’. In practice, this means that recognisable gospel sounds (from the harmonies of African choirs to modern R’n’B-inspired crooning) are mixed with Angolan dance music such as semba and rebita as well as with folk styles and a liberal dose of reggae here and there. The overall feel of the album is happy and light-hearted. It is very cheesy, but often endearingly so, with Casio-esque synths and drum machines aplenty, and matters of God at the forefront of most tracks.

The album has a bit of a wobble just before the end – a couple of unoriginal and uninspired international-gospel tracks with some dubious tunings – before the last track of the set gets back to form and back to Angola with a bright and soukous-like jive.

The liner notes are a little vague on whether Diogo is leading a group here or whether it’s more of a one-man-band sort of operation, but the music he creates is as unpretentious as you can get – unashamedly sunny music from a man who knows what he likes singing about.