Boubacar Traore,
Kongo Magni
(World Village, 2005)

Simply one of the best recordings of 2005, Kongo Magni is a fine new release from a singer-songwriter-guitarist who has been around and known at least in his native country for some time. The Malian artist has a smooth-as-silk vocal style and blends some of the sounds of his country with the blues of the southern United States.

Malian folksinger Boubacar Traore is not simply laying down standard blues chord progressions here, but there is something in this new record that is hugely evocative of the kind of music that is usually associated with the Mississipi delta. If John Hammond had grown up in West Africa, this is the kind of music he might be playing.

Yes, it has much in common with the blues -- including the harmonica-guitar combination -- but this African legend's very sweet, very cool acoustic music has some very different elements as well. He's an innovative, percussive acoustic guitar player, and here on this disc accompanied by some accomplished side musiciaans that do nothing but add to the sound and feel of the music.

Without any anguish in his voice, he gently prods the listener to consider the elements that make up the life of a people: jealousy, war, children, death, farming. One does not have to understand the lyrics to feel the deep emotion in the work of this artist.

On "Djonkana," "Kar-Kar/Vincent" and other compositions, one hears the lovely harmonica of Vincent Bucher, which adds a perfect touch. On "Kanou," a song about love, harmony and peace, hear Regis Gizavo on the accordion.

As well, the disc features Pedro Kouyate on calabash gourd, Emile Biayenda on percussion, Yoro Diallo on kamele ngoni and Keletigui Diabate on balafon. "Dounia Tabolo" with its bluesy guitar and very African percussion (including the calabash) is perhaps the best example of how he fuses styles to make his own sound.

But it is Traore's voice, and really his guitar, which sets this disc apart. I cannot say I have never heard guitar playing like this, but I really can't remember when I have. Only Hammond, perhaps.

Traore was once considered the Elvis or Chuck Berry of Mali -- in his early days -- but with this disc he is in his own groove, one might go so far as to say he is inventing his own genre.

If you haven't yet heard this fine African musician, now is the time to take a listen and see what you are missing.

by David Cox
25 February 2006

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