Habib Koité and Bamada, Afriki (Cumbancha, 2007)
Malian singer/guitarist Habib Koité is one of the most respected performers of Western African music. Together with his backing band Bamada, Koité has earned his reputation by combining superior musicianship with a strong sense of melody. While Koité and Bamada have built and maintained a sizable international following over the last few years with steady touring, Afriki is actually their first album in six years.
The best and worst thing that can be said of Afriki is that it's pretty much exactly what anybody familiar with Koité's music would expect it to be. Koité churns out his usual assortment of mellow guitar grooves, set to the traditional rhythms of his homeland. Yes it's a bit predictable, but Koité's playing remains superb, and the music is generally quite pleasant. The one track which deviates from Koité's basic formula is called "Nta Dima," in which Koité takes the concept of a horn section quite literally -- the "horns" used in the song are antelope horns. Their tone doesn't quite match the tone of the guitar, resulting in a slight dissonance that's a bit jarring at first, but after a few listens it became the most compelling track on the album for me.
Fans of Habib Koité and Bamada will find plenty to their liking on Afriki, which ably reinforces Koité's status as an elite guitarist and a solid all-around performer. People who like laid-back guitar music do not need to have a particular affinity for African music to enjoy the quality of this recording as well.
Overall grade: B+
reviewed by Scott