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Review of CD by Habib Koite & Bamada

By Julius Timmerman
Posted Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Malian band Habib Koite & Bamada has toured Australia twice and blown audiences away both times with its massive exuberance and extraordinary talent. So dexterous are these musicians that two of the left-handed guitarists simply turn the guitars upside down, while the left-handed balafon and fiddle player seemingly plays his instruments back-to-front!

All of their studio and live albums, dating back to 1995, are must haves for collectors of African rock, chock full of exciting rhythms, melodies and dazzling instrumental artistry all topped off by Habib’s strong warm voice.

Afriki, their sixth album, and the first studio album for six years, is something of a departure from previous albums because speed and atmosphere-wise it’s so much more laid back. Habib’s expressive chorus-backed vocals are reflective and the instrumentation includes plenty of soft acoustic guitar, balafon and gentle percussive instruments (even antelope horns), rather than the full-on live band sound. Two tracks, “Fimani” and “Titati” are pensive instrumentals, while “N’ba’ has a gentle reggae beat. The lone up-tempo track is “Massake”, where the characteristic tightness of the band is as always a joy to behold, with some wonderful interplay between Habib and his vocal backing.

The language is Bambana, but the strong lyrics with their simple and direct messages that cover politics, love, pride and hope for the Malian and indeed all African people, can be sourced in the translations provided.

Once again, the superb musicianship of Habib and his band has produced a strong album where African and Western elements have been smoothly blended, where nothing seems out of place, and where the music is both accessible and unique.


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