Various Artists

Badenya: Manden Jaliya in New York City

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The performers on this album -- there are more than a dozen of them, playing in various combinations -- are from the Manden area of West Africa, coming from the countries of Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Gambia, and Mali. They play in the jaliya style, which has roots going back to the 13th century Mali empire and had a social/historian role as well as a musical one. Since 1997, the musicians, based in New York City, have been part of the Badenya program. This 11-song, 65-minute CD presents styles and repertoire reflective of all of their native lands, with some modern influence. There's not much modern influence that can be detected, at least to average Western listeners whose exposure to African music might have been limited, even if they've heard a fair amount of it on non-commercial radio. The modern traces seem most prominent in a few of the lyrics (English translations are provided in the notes), some of which have 20th century references, and some occasional Afro-pop elements in bass and guitar (particularly in the guitar on "Djiu De Galinha"). The emphasis falls very much on Manden lutes and didiophones, including the kora and bala, as well as mellifluous yet melismatic vocals. It's an attractive sound, yet even given the range of countries and instrumentation, there isn't as much variety as one might expect. A highlight, partly because it's a little different in tone from much of the rest of the material, is "Keme Burema," which has some energetic tambin (an end-blown flute) punctuated by some frenetic, occasionally whooping vocals.

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