Jama ko - Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba

Out Here Records

Ask any musician; when the studio is locked out for you, and the engineer and producer are in play, your creative juices better be flowing because the meter is running. That’s pressure, and the best do it with grace. Imagine now, you’re in the studio and a military coup takes over control of your country, right outside your door, as you’re recording. Pressure could not be more palpable than during the making of Jama ko, Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba's latest album recorded in Bamako as the government was being overthrown. That undoubtedly is an over-simplification but you can only imagine the distraction. In stark contrast to the circumstances, the package graphics of the album depict a warm, sunny and inviting jam session; the kind that any musician would love to jump into. These images represent the final practice sessions in Bassekou'ss living room before all hell broke loose. Between power outages and curfews that followed, somehow the songs of Jama ko were to be eventually preserved for posterity and to the listener; any sense of trepidation is lost in the spirit of the music and the emotion of the message. Jama ko means, ‘a great meeting of people’. Bassekou explains, “You may be rich or poor, Muslim or Christian; let’s get together and enjoy ourselves.” The master obviously enjoys pushing the envelope of the prehistoric instrument he wields. The ngoni is a goat skinned lute which comes in Papa, Mama and Baby bear sizes and varying number of strings. It’s also known as the hunter’s harp; a simple, guttural string instrument which the master plugs into a stomp box and issues some amazing Hendrixesque licks. The music on Jama Ko is based on the North African blues synonymous with Mali, but it rocks in a very Western way. Not as much as the Next Ambiance debut of I Speak Fula; the dynamics are a little thinner this time around, but the material is equally explosive despite a completely new line-up for Ngoni ba. My favorite moments come late in the disc. At track 11, ‘Segu Jajiri’ is an ode to a powerful warrior who always showed up with light, happiness and gold. Good company to keep no doubt. Taj Mahal growls through ‘Poye 2’, another warrior’s song which follows. Bassekou first met and played with Taj in Tennessee when the ngoni prodigy was only 18 years old.