Belle Epoque

Super Biton de Ségou

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Belle Epoque Review

by Don Snowden

Super Biton is one of several Malian bands who worked in the same early-'70s era as Salif Keita and Mory Kante, but instead working various aspects of the Bambara tradition into a rock band context. Belle Epoque translates as "beautiful time" or "epoch," but minimal liner notes and the absence of musician credits make it hard to say for sure if the disc is the greatest-hits collection of early recordings it appears to be. The opening "Nyeleni" sure sounds vintage enough, with its ancient organ tone and ragged horns that suddenly hit double time about two minutes in, but "Malamini" is more consistent, with tart horns and cascading guitar melodies working over a stop-time bass riff. "Saajura" opens gently with voices and guitar before that retro organ and horns kick in, but the groove never really gels and it's the same nondescript deal. "Yere Jabo" is moderately up-tempo like most of the tracks, but here the guitar solo and exuberant, whooping organ start generating sparks, and the melody to "Sisini" hits home from the start. A propulsive, percussive riff starts off "Nyangaran Foli" very strongly, but it just maintains a strong, Latin-tinged groove, building up a satisfying head of steam over 14 and a half minutes of repetition without much variation that never reaches a climax. The big problem with Super Biton is that there's nothing or nobody special enough to latch on to -- a song, singer, player, whatever -- compared to other West African bands of the era. Can't say Belle Epoque is bad, but can't say there aren't a lot more interesting Malian or African artists worth exploring first.

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