Habib Koité / Bamada


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On his second Putumayo release, Koite is even more laid-back, commercially astute, and cosmopolitan than on his 1999 debut. The romantic opening track, "Batoumambe," with its booty-shaking rhumba conceits, would not be out of place on a Gipsy Kings album. The bandleader's husky, boyish tenor sings convincingly about the kind of love that does not end in marriage, the perplexities of dealing with money, Aesop-like animal parables, or damaging superstitions. But the most important song by far is his famous "Cigarette Abana," in which a young man is pressured by his friends to smoke, tries it, feels ill, and swears that he will never touch tobacco again. Given the overwhelming presence of Western tobacco cartels in emerging nations, this is a very timely and courageous statement. However, musically speaking, the tune's new-fangled Latin-tinged context unfortunately lacks the pissed-off, confrontational power of the original version, which is still available. The fourth cut, "Sin Djen Djen," is more satisfying, a pure blast of Manding soul, with keening vocals riding over spiky balafons (wooden xylophones) while Koite's guitar echoes repetitive volleys of hypnotic polyrhythms. "Roma," a flute-laced instrumental, is another charmer. Ultimately, while the album is well-worth hearing, an insidious use of hackneyed triple-A pop flavors in the arrangements sometimes comes dangerously close to blunting Koite's outspokenness and diluting his overall impact.

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