If Gambian music often seems swamped by the superstar powerhouse that neighbouring Senegal has become – think of Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal or Cheik Lô – then Kairo (the word means peace) is a gem of an album that redresses the balance perfectly. But this light rhythmed, resolutely listener-friendly album does far more than this – for, let’s face it, there’s little to separate Senegalese and Gambian musics, with their lilting kora runs and tripping mbalax rhythms in common. Compiled by GRTS, Gambia’s Radio and Television Service, as a way to circumvent Africa’s thriving bootleg cassette industry, it’s quite possible that Kairo’s 13 groups and performers might actually get some royalties from their efforts.
Whether or not the disc marks the makings of a record-industry infrastructure is one thing: the other is the music. And with peerless artists such as kora player and singer Tata Dindin Jobarteh, percussionist Musa Mboob and Amadou B appearing, Kairo offers a sonic picture of Gambia’s overlapping languages and traditions which, with the presence of rappers De Waan Jee, is already looking to developments. The latter’s ‘Salaam Aleikum’, a tapestry of pattered rhythms and entwined vocals is truly uplifting. However, Kairo’s stand-out tracks – Tata Dindin’s breezy ‘Bitillo’, Mass Lowe’s scurrying ‘Aminatta’ or the mighty drummings of Mboob’s ‘Chossan’ – owe their timelessness to musicians who draw a delicate strength from the admixture of old and new.Louise Gray