Senegal's Mady Kouyate is part of the Kouyate family of Dialolu, griots in the Manding tradition for centuries. He is also an astounding kora player, capable of improvising off of the traditional West African melodies that form the biggest part of Kelemagni, his debut album. All of the five pieces here are fairly long, giving Kouyate the space to both set up the melodies, but also to spark off in wonderfully fluid tangents against them, and his rapid, bright lead lines literally shimmer like Coltrane-inspired wind chimes against the basslines Kouyate sets up as a rhythmic foundation with his other hand. It is difficult to single out one track over another, since everything here is an integrated part of a whole quilt, but the final two pieces, "Kumbuna" and "Bundu," are particularly moving. Both are dedicated to Kouyate's father, the former being his father's favorite traditional melody, and the latter takes as its title the name of his father's village. Another highlight here is the second selection, "Kuruntu Kelefa," a call for peace. Kouyate takes his griot heritage very seriously, but he also understands the need to translate the traditional into a language that speaks to the 21st century. All of this makes Kelemagni a tremendously unified album with internal dualities: Just enough jazz and pop inflection to make this project speak outside of the West African tradition, and just enough of home to keep it grounded there.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett