Further proof that the creative crucible that is Malian music never stops bubbling. A jeli – that is, a musician from the traditional caste of griots or praise singers – Habib Koité established his reputation with Maya (1988), then Bara (2001). These albums showed the singer-songwriter’s inspiration to be drawn from the country’s broad range of music, rather than anything more localized.
Afriki catches the man at a point where international acclaim is resoundingly loud, especially in the US since he recorded a duet with Bonnie Raitt in 2002. You wouldn’t know this from even a quick exposure to Afriki: it’s an album of such intimacy and so centred on the quiet virtues of a traditional life that it’s as if the world outside is kept at bay. With Bamada’s five members and a supporting cast of many (including Pee Wee Ellis, hornplayer to the late James Brown), the prevailing mood is reflective. ‘Namania’, a love song to the land personified as Koité’s ‘little Moorish girl’, begins with a sketched guitar melody and a murmuring vocal that soon picks up some gentle percussion, choir and ripples of balofon. There is much to praise here – not least the floating lines of ‘N’ba’ and the counterpoint of ngoni lute, harmonica and guitar on ‘Mali Ba’ [Great Mali], in which the country is likened to a prize bull. ‘Take care of this bull,’ implores Koité.