Afel Bocoum, Damon Albarn, Toumani Diabate & Friends
he more years that go by, the more cookie jars get pillaged by Damon Albarn. When he’s not busy with Blur Albarn finds himself involved in a series of musical adventures, most famously the cartoon act Gorillaz with which he has obtained a great deal of success. He has also had the time to produce Mali Music, in addition to playing guitar, keyboards, melodica, and percussion on it. The other people involved, when Albarn wasn’t playing just about everything imaginable, are native Malians. Albarn recorded the singing and elementary music in Mali, while adding his own contributions in his studio in London. The album was released in April on Albarn’s own label Honest Jon’s and with no signs of slowing down any time soon, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another album very soon. But let’s take a look at this one.
Here is your setting: lovely sunny day in the forrest, a bunch of people all dancing and partying while trying to outloud the sound of the waterfall nearby. You: inhibited westerner standing in amazement, but also with a degree of enlightment when you realize that the exotic locals shown on TV could do nothing to prepare you for this.
Mali Music is a beautifully crafted peice that feels original. It does not sound like an attempt to make credible African music, it simply is African. From the very first track ”Spoons” you can indulge in a vast compilation of instrumental sounds without it being too crowded. Dancing piano keys, stroking violins and cellos, tapping xylophones, beats, electronic elements...there’s room for them all on this magnificent musical exhibition. This is a laudible effort. It is obvious that Albarn has a healthy respect for the many sounds of African instrumentation, giving each of them a spotlight on the album.
Singling out beauties in this forest seems a bit unfair- they all have their special attractions. I mean, in a forest you need the flowers, the trees, the mushrooms, the animals...it’s the entire thing that makes it, without one entity it’s not quite a forest. If you want to download before you buy, however, the obvious single is ”Spoons”, a track in which repetetiveness works well and never becomes a bore. There’s also the very smooth and life affirming ”Niger”, which is of a slightly higher quality than most of the tracks on the record. Don’t fear that this album, however, that traditional song structure is thrown out the window. "Sunset Coming On" is, perhaps, Africa through the eyes of Albarn, not quite sounding Malian but observing from the outside.
Mali Music sounds surprisingly un-Albarn-esque. If you weren’t told you would never have guessed he had any involvement whatsoever had it not been for his singing on ”Sunset Coming On”. The fact that he is a huge contributor in the proceedings is well disguised. Like him or not, Albarn’s abillity to adapt to different situations in music and his courage to set foot on various uncommon grounds can only be applauded. Though this may not be the material the typical Blur or Gorillaz fan may be into, they should definitely give it a chance while waiting for the next Blur project, which may be quite a change from the typical Blur fare anyway.
Do yourself a favor, listen to this wonderful, easygoing yet powerful, versatile creation and widen your musical horizons. The world has more to offer than the Western world’s conception of music.
Reviewed by: Setareh Yousefi
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01