"Mali Latino" - Madou Sidiki Diabate, Ahmed Fofana, Alex Wilson

Tagged with: Mali Latino Alex Wilson Madou Sidiki Diabate Ahmed Fofana Mamadou aldeburgh Peter Conway Real World Bamako Lucy Duran Kandia Kouyate Diabaté Soumaila Kanouté Doussouba Aoua Kassé Mady Djeneba Kone Emeris Solis Davide Giovannini

MALI LATINO - Madou Sidiki Diabaté, Ahmed Fofana & Alex Wilson

(Alex Wilson Records, 2010, AWCD7) 

Ok, let's just say it straightaway - "Mali Latino" is a stunning album - Maximum five stars!

A stunning album - Maximum five stars!

This is definitely on my shortlist for our 2010 World Music Album of the year . . .

You wait at the world music bus stop for something special to come along - and then two come at the same time.  The date was Monday 11th October 2010 and on the first bus from Bamako was World Circuit's "AfroCubism" (see our review here: www.worldmusic.co.uk/afrocubism_afrocubism).  

Now, usually the first bus is packed and the one right behind it is empty - not so with this 'chivo' . . .

"Mali Latino" is bursting with stunning musicianship and creative energy.

The Mali Latino project has been a six-year labour of love for the award-winning pianist and composer Alex Wilson, starting as a residency and a commission from Aldeburgh Music.  Alex teamed up with Malian master kora player Madou Sidiki Diabaté (brother to Toumani) and the multi-instrumentalist Ahmed Fofana to try and create a fresh and vibrant synthesis that drew meaningful connections between the two main musical traditions represented: West African Mandé and Afro-Cuba.

Without a doubt the three band leaders have succeeded in creating an album that not only fuses the musical traditions of Mali with those of Latin America but makes the whole lot incorporate jazz, blues, funk and classical without losing a jot of integrity.  No mean feat.

A truly sumptuous album . . . a must-have

It's a truly sumptuous album - not just the fabulous music itself but also through the fantastic arrangements. Add the excellent production values and beautiful recording quality (at Realworld Studios amongst others) and this is a must-have.

There are those who might not like how the project dips in and out of different genres and has changes of pace - don't come expecting latin RnB or an album of traditional Malian songs.  It's certainly difficult to categorise, but in the end  you have to trust to Diabate, Fofana and Wilson's musical vision.  

"Mali Latino" goes from pumping dancefloor grooves to delicate meditative explorations and yet still hangs together as one single piece of work.

The album opens with "Donkan" - a powerful track that showcases the entire band and some supertight arrangements.  Ahmed Fofana's punchy, compelling balafon, Madou Sidiki Diabaté's rippling kora runs, faultless dynamic trombone backing (very much a Wilson trademark), very muscular kit-drumming (and timbales) from Giovannini traded against Solis's popping congas, and those wonderful earthy vocals from guest vocalist Soumaïla Kanouté (a real find!).  And then there's Wilson's authoritative, exhilarating latin jazz piano effortlessly glueing the rhythm section together and intermittently pouring out over the rhythm in waves of rich sound.

Straight into "Sangre Mandinga" (Mandinka Blood), a strong rocking dancefloor track, with Giovannini's Spanish lyrics set against the voice of young Malian Aoua Kassé Mady Diabaté.  The track includes a wonderful trombone solo (Nichol Thomson) as well as a delightful conversation between the piano and kora.  

Of the 12 tracks on the album, it's the third one "Ankaben" that really speaks to me at a visceral level and it's almost entirely due to the vocalist Soumaïla Kanouté - simply stunning delivery!! Every time I hear it, it gives me shivers down the spine.  Amazing tremelo effect .  Diabaté is also very much on form on the kora trading riffs with Wilson's piano as the whole track builds and builds over a rock solid cowbell and soaring moñas on the trombones.  

The other 9 tracks are equally as worthy of inclusion:

the freeform reflective explorations of mood by the three principal bandleaders on "Voyage";

original Mali Latino vocalist Doussaba Diabaté's entreaty for pan african solidarity on "Bamako 2000" (loving the funky organ sound and flute);

the memories of playful joy and childhood innocence on "Joie Au Village" (the 3 against 4 feel underpinning the tune, the surprise son montuno in the middle);

the desert blues guitar and smoky vocals of Ahmed Fofana on Nih Koh Bedy (again, love the swirling Hammond and Mantovani's sinuous basslines) showing the direct line between the delta blues and sub-saharan Africa (I kept expecting John Lee Hooker to suddenly pop up!);

the heartening pervasive party groove of Ankan Tolon (featuring Djeneba Koné on vocals) with a funky railroad blues rhythm section underneath and bluesy piano, bluesy guitar and even bluesy kora over the top;

the beautiful solo kora recital dedicated to the old capital of the Mandinka kingdom "Kansala" by master kora player Madou Sidiki Diabaté;

a contemporary tale in "Bomba Bambara" of the indignities suffered by Madou and Ahmed in trying to enter the UK (a timely reminder to the government to do more to support one of the UK's few growth industries: our world music scene!);  

"Oiayemelo" shows the cultural links between Latin America and Mali are deep and strong as Emeris Solis sings and plays congas on an afro-Colombian 'currulao' song written by his grandmother as Ahmed backs him on balafon;

and finally the track that started the whole Mali Latino project in 2004 -"Remercier Les Travailleurs" (Thank You To The Workers): echoes of Classical Europe meets Classical Africa as the newly-met Alex and Madou clearly revel in each other's musical company and in the absolutely majestic vocals of Kandia Kouyaté.  

I can't praise this album enough.  I'll say it again: Five Stars and an automatic inclusion on my shortlist for Best World Music Album for 2010.  Go and buy it now!

Glyn Phillips


(Main promo photos by Gerry Walden)