Various Artists

Divas of Mali

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A nice collection of songs from the various songbirds of Mali. The basic concept behind the album appears to be collecting female singers from every corner of the country. The album starts out with Salif Keita's discovery, the Mandingo Sanougue Kouyate. After a different Kouyate performs, Nahawa Doumbia, hailing from Wassoulou, belts out a powerful number. The young and energetic Hadja Soumano follows. Ami Koita's somewhat more classical take on Manding music follows, showing the dichotomy between new and old; a slower piece in the Wassoulou style, "Wary," is performed by the former singer for the famous L'Ensemble Instrumentale du Mali, and the venerable Fanta Damba sings a traditional Bambara number from some time ago, accompanied ably on the kora. She shows off a more traditional form of ensemble than the more contemporary (within the last couple decades) trend of additional electric instruments and full-drum ensembles. Both Yayi Kanoute and Kandia Koyate (Ami Koita's friend) perform Manding numbers, and Djeneda Diakite provides a beat-heavy Peul song from the north. It's a starkly different sound from the other singers, with aspects of North African musics seeping in quietly in both the instrumental aesthetics and her vocal techniques (almost taking on the throaty Muslim delivery from time to time). The album finishes on a piece by Sali Sidibe, the former singer for the National Ensemble of Mali, with a deep base of balofon sounds laying the counterpoint for her higher-range vocals and a fiddle of some sort responding in turn. Mali is a relatively large and diverse country, making it rather difficult to display all of the forms without getting stuck on the popular Manding and Wassoulou styles. This album tries admirably to cover the whole of the spectrum by including stray numbers from the Peul and Bamana traditions, as well as older-generation Manding and Wassoulou singers. Despite this attempt, the end result is an album rather decidedly focused on the Manding and Wassoulou. While it's not as diverse as one might hope, the sound is still quite worth hearing, with the various generations and stylistic differences brought to the table by different singers.

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