South Mali's Kokanko Sata is a grounded and determined musician who, after learning how to play the reverse calabash, taught herself to play the kamelen n'goni, an eight-stringed harp that looks a bit like a small kora, an instrument that no woman had ever played before. Certain that none of the male n'goni players would ever show her any of the tricks of the instrument, she developed her own distinctive approach, while still staying within reach of the traditional music associated with the n'goni. The result is this delightfully hushed, nuanced and ultimately uplifting album full of partings and goodbyes, personal and communal matters of the spirit, and reflections on the joys and pains of love. Even though they are traditional in construction, Sata gives these songs a deeply determined and personal cast, and there is little doubt that she is expressing small intimacies even as she sings of larger and more public concerns. Backed at times by balafon, flute, spare guitar, and djembe percussion, Sata manages to convey both delicacy and strength on tracks like the amazingly emotive "Be Moga Ya," the gradually accelerating "Wonanfeku" and the percolating "Kono Kuru." In the end, Kokanko Sata is proof that music doesn't need to be loud and amplified to be powerful, and thanks goes to Blur's Damon Albarn -- on whose Honest Jons label this album appears -- for recognizing that, and not sticking guitars and drums all over this beautiful little masterpiece.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett