SALIF KEITA / “Seydou”
Typically, when I think of African music, what first comes to mind is uptempo, danceable, percussive music. In this post, I’m going to drop a few selections of African music featuring the slower, more reflective side of the continent.
First up is “Marriage” from Madamax (M.E.L.T. - 1998), an extended piece by South African guitarist Madala Kunene and Swiss guitarist and producer Max Lässer. If you’re struck, as I am, by how ethereal this guitar music sounds, by the way it sounds like something out of a reverie, you should know it’s nothing more than an expression of how the artists themselves feel. “When I’m playing,” Kunene has said, “My brain is not there. Each time I go to a place I’ve never been before.”
Next we’ll check out a tune named “Bamananke” by Diely Moussa Kouyaté. Over the years, Kouyaté has made a name for himself as Salif Keita’s guitarist. This selection, from Kouyaté’s solo release, Sebe Alaye (Lusafrica - 2002), practically sounds like an extension of the soothing yet dynamic guitar work on “Marriage.”
We’re going to stay with the same meditative feel but take things in a more modern direction in terms of technique and instrumentation. Ejigayehu “Gigi” Shibabaw is a young Ethiopian singer who always sounds good to me whether she’s singing traditional music with her band Abyssinia Infinite or performing in a more modern style on her solo releases. This week’s selection, a remix of her tune “Guramayle” from Illuminated Audio (Palm Pictures - 2003), uses electronic keyboards and loops to create the same hypnotic feeling that Kunene and Kouyaté achieve with their acoustic guitars. Both Kalamu and I have raved about Gigi before and given her track record I’m sure we’ll do it again.
It’s acoustic time again. Rufino “Bau” Almeida is a guitarist and songwriter from Cape Verde who is best known as the bandleader for the enchanting queen of Cape Verdian pop, Cesária Évora. Bau’s instrumental tune “Estronhe E Criolo" from Silencio (Lusafrica - 2003) continues the trend of gentle, guitar-led music from the Mother Continent. But while the other musicians in this post are primarily dealing with mood, Bau’s tune is an actual composition (there are verses, choruses, a bridge, etc.) and Bau’s fleet-fingered playing is as impressive as it is relaxing.
Our feature track is something really special. The short version of the story goes like this: about ten years ago, a French sound engineer was working on a film in Mali. The legendary singer Salif Keita had a part in that film. The two became acquaintances and at the end of filming, the sound engineer asked the vocalist if he’d be willing to sing something on tape. Keita agreed, the two went to the sound engineer’s room and that was that — the soundman pressed ‘record’ and Keita started singing.* The result speaks for itself. If you want to read the original version of the story, follow this link to visit the excellent music blog Benn Loxo Du Taccu (‘The Sound Of One Hand Clapping’). Obviously, you can’t buy this track anywhere, but the studio version of “Seydou” is available on Keita’s 1995 album Folon.
—Mtume ya Salaam
* Although I’m pretty sure Keita doesn’t play guitar. Maybe it’s Kouyaté? Maybe not.
So much I want to share This is the kind of post that is frustrating for me. There is so much I want to share in this vein but… well, you know, we can only do so much at one time. So we will revisit this thread. (Yeah, I know, I haven’t forgot the Milton Nascimento and a bunch of other stuff I’m supposed to get to—I’m sure I’m going to die before we exhaust all of the music we’d like to share.) Anyway, as the above photo clarifies, Salif does play guitar and most likely Salif is accompanying himself on that cut…. OK, I can’t resist. I recently got hold of a bootleg of a Salif concert in Leeds, England. I’ve got to drop a cut into the mix. Just one…. This is called "M'Bemba" and it's teetotally badddd! Man, Mtume, you be starting stuff! To be continued…. —Kalamu ya Salaam
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