In the six years since Mali's Habib Koite released his last new studio album, he developed a reputation in the West as one of his country's greatest cultural exports. On Afriki, Koite has fine-tuned his carefully manicured approach to melodic, acoustic-based songs of deep personal and global meaning. Always an engaging singer and songwriter, Koite's guitar is on equal footing here; his playing and the overall musicianship of his band, Bamada, outshines anything they offered in their previous outings. Koite exhibits a newfound sensitivity in his playing, always intricate, evocative, rhythmic and moving. Some of the instrumental work is reminiscent of the folk guitar styles of the '60s, but on tracks like the exquisite "N'Teri," a simple song of thanks, Koite brings in lush orchestration and background vocalists, as well as an array of native African instruments such as the balofon and n'goni. Other tracks, among them the album-opening "Namania" and "Africa" (with horns arranged by James Brown veteran Pee Wee Ellis), a song calling for African self-reliance, apply Koite's guitar, soulful voice and the gap-filling backup singers to a more polyrhythmic setting. "Fimani" reunites Mali with the blues it spawned, while the closing "Titati" is a solo showcase for Koite's lone (but never lonesome) guitar. Some may say that the key to Koite's escalating popularity lies in an eagerness to look outside of Mali for ideas to incorporate with his own; that may be so, but that's not such a bad thing at all if the result is an uplifting, empowering world music that truly does bring together so much of the world, in such a warm and enchanting way.
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AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin