Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Ba Power

Mali has long been known as a nation of music and the West African country has produced many important musicians such as Salif Keita and Oumou Sangare to name just two. The latest to join this illustrious company is Bassekou Kouyate who plays the small lute known as the ngoni, a possible ancestor of the banjo. Kouyate is the world’s greatest exponent of the instrument and even names his family band, Ngoni Ba, after it. Ba Power is the title of their newly released fourth album.

For the new album, recorded in Bamako, Kouyate has added a number of guests who range from Malian guitarist Sambe Toure to Robert Plant’s Norwich-born drummer Dave Smith. The music is more electrified than previously and more Westernised in places with the addition of some brass, keyboards and effects pedals. The energetic opening track ‘Siran Fen’ (Beware) sets the tone for much of the album with the ngoni played uninhibitedly. In fact, it’s not too fanciful to imagine it sounds rather like Yukito Ara on one of his Okinawan sanshin workouts.

ba power

While applauding Kouyate and his band, some have questioned whether the addition of the extra musicians on this album is really necessary. It always raises the question of the wisdom of African (or for that matter, Asian) musicians dabbling in Western-friendly styles. But it is the Westerners, ironically, who often get more worked up about this kind of thing. Presumably, they feel that their image of pure ethnic music is being tarnished.

The only real concern is whether all this actually works. On this album it does and Ba Power is exciting and rewarding on all levels. It would be interesting to see the band performing live as on this form it must be quite an experience. The outside influences are generally incorporated well, and while it may be true that Kouyate and his band could have managed just fine without them they never detract either. The ngoni playing is, of course, masterly and Kouyate’s singing is matched by the strong vocals of his wife Amy Sacko. The pick of a fine selection of songs are ‘Abe Sumaya’ (It Will Die Out), ‘Waati’ (Time), and ‘Te Duniya Laban’ (Not Forever) when all the voices and music blend most completely.

Ba Power is out now on Glitterbeat Records.

A short video on the making of the album can be seen here:



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