October 15, 2010

Rokia Traoré Bowmboï
African folk music, singer-songwriter

Malian Rokia Traoré’s self-produced third album, the lovely Bowmboï, is a collection of African folk songs delivered via classical acoustic guitar, traditional African instrumentation and Traoré’s remarkable voice. Singing in her native Bamana language, she delivers a ten track set that is calm, relaxing and beautiful in its simplicity. The Rokia Traoré - Bowmboïmusic is fleshed out through some earthy percussion and fine string augmentation (courtesy on two tracks of The Kronos Quartet) which gives the album a bustling, spritely sound, which feels quite active and vibrant, but never steps over the line into any degree of tense urgency. The percussion in particular is highly impressive – dynamic, multi-layered and very nimbly performed, it is nonetheless carefully tempered such that it never overshadows any other element of the music. Most importantly, it doesn’t overshadow Traoré’s incredibly beguiling vocal, one of the most gorgeous and transfixing I’ve heard all decade. There’s something undeniably transportative about the music, such that I find myself swept up and totally immersed in Traoré’s world every time I press play. As far as highlights go, the album is bookended remarkably well. The opening four tracks provide a feast of brilliant material, with “M’Bifo”, “Sara” and “Köte Don” making for a lively trio and the exquisite “Mariama” featuring a lovely guest vocal from Malian legend Ousmane Sacko as a counterpart to Traoré, while the title-track closes the album with exceptional grace.




October 14, 2010

The Ex Turn

Turn was my second experience with long-running Dutch anarchopunk group The Ex, after hearing their awesome work with Gétatchèw Mèkurya on Moa Anbessa, and I was delighted to find that I liked it even more than that excellent record. I was initially a little worried about the longer track lengths (average track time is about six The Ex - Turnminutes, with nothing under four) and the fact that it’s a double album, as too often that sort of thing just leads to an overstuffed package of songs that repeatedly outstay their welcomes. In this case, however, it’s just a case of getting that much extra Ex goodness for your buck, as Turn is so pleasingly consistent that the listener need never labour through a relative lull. The band approach their distinctly global brand of punk music with a loose playstyle, all murky guitars and thumpy percussion, that enables the music to really tumble along with a great deal of scrappy energy, and it’s all very well complemented by lead singer G.W Sok’s aggressively sardonic, near-belligerent vocals (Mark E. Smith fans, take note). Big personal favourites include “Dog Tree”, “The Pie” and “Theme From Konono”, the latter of which perfectly captures the excitement of Konono No. 1 (whose Congotronics we’ve already seen on this list) in an entirely new way, borrowing that group’s most recognisable thumb piano melodies and then redirecting them through a furious, post-punk prism.



August 26, 2010

electropop, hip-hop, world music

M.I.A’s first album, Arular, never really gelled at all for me. It was musically jarring in a manner that rubbed me the wrong way, and I found it to be frustratingly inconsistent in quality. After a handful of listens it was finally relegated to the big pile of music I rarely bother to revisit. Because of this, I steered clear of Kala upon its release, assuming that I’d be in for more of the same. It wasn’t until I had a brief obsession with the ubiquitous single “Paper Planes” that I finally decided to check the album out, and even then I was hesitant about being drawn in by a singular hit. Better late than never, though, as Kala brings together Arular‘s more promising aspects – punchy rhythms, dynamic vocals, wry humour and political M.I.A. - Kalaawareness – refines them, tidies them up and streamlines them through a Indian-pop-meets-Western-dance-party sensibility. The results are a bevy of creative, dancefloor-burning tunes: “Jimmy” is a swirling Bollywood gem, “Bird Flu” and “Hustle” are both pleasingly feisty, her reworking of “Mango Pickle Down River” takes the didgeridoo samples and vocals from the original by indigenous Australian group The Wilcannia Mob and adds a couple of Maya’s own verses, a cool London grime backdrop and some sharper production, and “Paper Planes” and “Boyz” – the latter being my personal favourite – are bouncy, anthemic and brimming with attitude in a manner that makes them two of the decade’s most impossibly addictive singles.


August 13, 2010

Kandia KouyatéBiriko
African folk music, Malian

Kandia Kouyaté is widely considered to be Mali’s best female pure vocalist, and verges on being a national treasure for it. Biriko is a near-exhausting showcase of her profound ability, as Kouyaté unveils passage after passage of simply amazing vocal-work across the album’s eleven lengthy tracks (only two of them clock in at less than five minutes), ranging across Kandia Kouyaté - Birikofragile melancholy, soulful grooves and robustly commanding hollers. The backing instrumentation – played almost solely on traditional African instrumentals – is pleasingly melodic (sometimes playfully, sometimes more restrained), yet is subtle enough to avoid distracting the listener, allowing the focus to remain solely on Kouyaté’s vocals 90% of the time, the remaining 10% being composed of finely played instrumental introductions or interludes. For fans of exceptional vocal showcases – regardless of their attitude towards “world” music – Biriko is downright essential.