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AfroCubism
Eliadas Ochoa - vocals, acoustic guitar
KassMadyDiabaté – vocals
LassanaDiabaté – balafon
ToumaniDiabaté – kora
BassekouKouyate – ngoni, ngoniba
DjemiladyTounkara – electric guitar
Groupo Patria
Review By Phil Gold

 

  Anyone who ever enjoyed the Buena Vista Social Club or any fan of Malian kora sensation Toumani Diabaté will need little encouragement from me to rush out and buy this album. If you're a fan of both genres, as I am, you'll be in heaven. This superb crossover album takes the very best from both idioms and creates a memorable musical journey. Diabaté has done this before of course, in his pivotal 1999 collaboration Kulanjan with Taj Mahal.

Let's go back a bit, to March of this year in fact, when your Canadian correspondent and his wife, unfettered by any US imposed travel restrictions, spent an exciting few days in the Cuban capital Havana. We went to see what life was like in a communist country (forgedaboutit!), to see the once beautiful city in all its faded glory, to ride around in 1950's vintage American cars, and most of all, to soak up the Cuban music. The first thing we looked for was where to see the Buena Vista Social Club band and that led to a night to remember at the Taberna Benny Moré, particularly when the dancers selected me to salsa with them big time, with my wife's eyes so fixed on the male lead she didn't even notice my exertions. While many of the musicians were in their twenties, there were still some celebrated veterans amongst them. We spent our days moving from cafe to cafe, soaking up the atmosphere and the music of Cuban son. Once this music gets into your blood, it is irresistible even if, like me, you don't understand a single word they are singing.

Another passion of mine centers around the late great Malian instrumentalist Ali Farka Touré, whose very last North American concert we were fortunate enough to catch. Diabaté is a musician of similar excellence, a giant among African musicians. This 2010 recording finds Diabaté and family members together with Bassekou Kouyate and Djemilady Tounkara teaming up with Cuban singer and guitarist Eliadas Ochoa.

There is quite a back story about how this album came about. Nonesuch's website relates:

"In 1996, a group of Mali's finest musicians were due to fly into Havana for a speculative collaboration with some of Cuba's most brilliant singers and instrumentalists. For reasons that have never been made clear, the Malians never arrived. A very different album was recorded: Buena Vista Social Club. The rest, as they say, is multi-million selling history.But what about that original album? What riches might have been revealed in the interaction of virtuosi from one of Africa's most musically rich territories, and from Cuba whose music has origins in Africa, and has been hugely influential on the mother continent?

AfroCubism offers the opportunity to find out. World Circuit Records' Nick Gold, the man behind the 1996 venture, finally brought the original invitees together with a stellar line-up of additional talent at a series of inspirational sessions and the great lost Afro-Cuban album will be released 14 years after originally planned. Fronting the Cuban team is the cowboy-hatted singer and guitarist Eliades Ochoa, singer of the great Buena Vista theme "Chan Chan." The two original Malian invitees are multi-award-winning ngoni lute master Bassekou Kouyate and the extraordinary Rail Band guitarist Djelimady Tounkara, both universally agreed to be among the world's great instrumentalists. Joining them are Eliades' Grupo Patria, amongst Cuba's longest running and most revered bands, the mercurial kora genius Toumani Diabaté, legendary Malian griot singer Kasse Mady Diabaté and the innovatory balafon player Lassana Diabaté."

As you listen to song after song on this album you may say to yourself "Surely they can't keep this up!"  But the inspiration is unflagging, the creativity mind blowing, and the sheer joy captures exactly the same spirit we felt back in Havana. The music is now played with a thick Malian accent, but retains all the same infectious warmth and rhythmic excitement, while all the vocalists are on top form in their own ways.

The opening instrumental "Mali Cuba" sets the tone for the whole album. You know at once you are in safe hands. "Al Vaivén de mi Carreta" (the swaying of my cart) is hypnotic, highlighting Ochoa's superb voice and no-holds-barred delivery. "Karomo" delivers a little less Cuba and a lot more Africa which will have you checking out all the Diabaté albums you can find. For me the standout track is the deconstructed instrumental piece "Guantanamera," a display of such exquisite beauty and brilliance that it could only be improved by doubling its length.

I feel like offering a money back guarantee with my recommendation this time out. Many years ago, I read this comment on a play in London's West End: "If you do not enjoy this play, you are dead".  I could say much the same about this disk.

 

 

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