Album Review: Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba – Miri [Outhere Records; 25th January 2019]

Musical genre; the most common contention between genre labelling and the music itself. Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba really hit the nail on the head with this next album, Miri. Although not in an authentic sense but rather a sonic excursion into what is real, it is centred on issues of justice, integrity and, above all, love. Miri takes us to Bassekou’s place of birth, Garana (conveniently so, Miri was also produced in Mali), bringing in tow an impressive trove of critically acclaimed collaborators, Habib Koite, Don Flemmings, and life partner Amy Sacko, to name but a few.

Possibly the least exuberant number of the album, and therefore ill-placed, is the opening track, ‘Kanougnon’ featuring Majid Bekkas, a song of love and the intense emotional upheavals as a result of lost loved ones. Its consistency and relentlessly placid movement throughout is the sound of abandonment, uninterrupted by very much else.

The rest of the album deviates from a relatively even-tempered and somewhat mournful introduction to a brisk, sonic representation of joy and hope. Each track, transient and progressive, mindful of sheepish subject matters such as politics, environment and even jealousy, then very quickly shifts momentum mid-way through tracks with shorter sustained basslines, and a ferocious groove intervenes. ‘Konya’ is a fine example of this glorious phenomenon. It’s as if a weight is lifted and the unfortunate realities of a politically-compromised culture are comparably short-lived.

There are suggestions of Mali’s deeply American roots; bluegrass, Cajun and Louisiana Creole influences are delicately fused. Intelligently juxtaposed Cajun-style fiddle and jazz influences are brilliantly adorned by Casey Driessen and Snarky Puppy’s Michael League. In 2008, Bassekou featured on Bela Fleck’s (notoriously bluegrass) Throw Down Your Heart, journeying through the African musical heritage; The Ngoni of African descent and its distant cousin, the banjo, offer unifying combinations of fast-paced melodies and razor-sharp tonal qualities which blend so well.

Miri, by and large, is a traditionally African masterpiece upon first impressions. Tempo variations, vocal styles, thrum and drone production arrangements, as well as its sense of community, love and friendship, are a true representation of the quintessential Malian primitives. In addition to Bassekou’s savage handiwork and supplemental genre infusions, Miri can only be thoroughly contemplated when played full-bore; loud if you will.