More from Mali: ngoni masters.

Position:Sound recording review

Segu Blue

By Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni ba

Out Here Records

Cat: OH 007

This is the first solo album by Malian musician and composer Bassekou Kouyate. He is one of the true masters of the ngoni and Segu Blue is a tour de force of this instrument, sometimes described as a West African lute. Unlike the kora, whose history goes back only a few hundred years, the ngoni has been the main instrument in griot storytelling since the 13th century, the days of Soundiata Keita, the founder of the Mali Empire.

The repertoire Bassekou plays is Bambara music from the region of Segu. Bambara music is pentatonic in nature and as close to the blues as you can get in Africa. As the legendary US blues artist Taj Mahal puts it: "Bassekou is a genius, a living proof that the blues comes from the region of Segu."

Bassekou was born in the village of Garana, almost 40 miles from Segu, in the remote countryside on the banks of the Niger River. He was raised in a traditional musical environment, his mother a praise singer and his father and brothers both exceptional ngoni players. Bassekou moved to Bamako when he was 19 years old where he met the young Toumani Diabate.

By the late 1980s Bassekou was part of Toumani Diabate's Symmetric trio, alongside Keletigui Diabate, and they recorded their first albums together; Songhai and Djelika. Bassekou was also involved in Toumani Diabate's Kulanjan project which also featured Taj Mahal.

Moreover, Bassekou was one of the key musicians on Ali Farka Toure's posthumous album Savane and when on tour with him he left a lasting impression on audiences as the band's solo ngoni player. As a tribute to the great man, Bassekou has recorded the track 'Lament for Ali Farka' on his first album.


International collaborations

Bassekou has collaborated with many musicians outside of Mali, such as Ry Cooder and Bela Fleck and more recently Youssou N'Dour (on his new album Rokku Mi Rokka), and Dee Dee Bridgewater's new album Red Earth. But for his debut album, Bassekou has put together Mali's first ngoni quartet, Ngoni ba--meaning "the big ngoni"--that includes Oumar Barou Kouyate, Moussa Bah and Andra Kouyate. His band also features Alou Coulibaly (calebasse), Moussa Sissoko (percussion) and his wife, the singer Amy Sacko, sometimes called 'The Tina Turner of Mali'. The reason for this reference to the US musician is, reportedly, more for her appearance than her singing voice which, while as powerful, is lighter and...

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