Amar Sundy

Sadaka

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Half a decade after the release of Najma, Tuareg bluesman Amar Sundy issues Sadaka, the finest sounding of his four full-lengths. Sundy, who has been in France for some time, has let the country grow into him; he melds the atmospheric music of the desert to French chanson, sophisticated adult pop, and of course his beloved blues. His guitar playing is the essence of the the latter music, learned from American guitar slingers from B.B. and Albert King to Jimmy Johnson, but the influence of the late Malian master Ali Farka Touré is ever-present in Sundy's phrasing and rhythmic invention. These 14 songs use the blues as a base but move afield, creating something wholly other from them while retaining their feel and emotion. Some of Sundy's guests include Eric Bibb and Joe Louis Walker on a cut apiece, Hawaiian lap steel master Pura Fe, bassist Sylvin Marc, and vocalist Mokhtar Samba. The core band consists of drums and percussion courtesy of Olivier Monteils and Gerard Carocci, electric bass by Henri Dorina, a chorus of female backing vocalists, and on many tracks, the accordion of Marcel Loeffler. The meld of instruments is exotic -- check the title track, a song about generosity and compassion, or "L'Halem," where disillusionment with the madness of the world is a poignant, rhythmically insistent question. Pura Fe's lead vocal is wrapped inside the knotty yet slippery textures on "El Hathab," where organ and guitar blues meet funk and desert soul. "Debhia" is one of the most exotic tracks on the set. With a flute, a percussion loop, and Sundy's electric guitar playing in the Tuareg blues style, he and the chorus use call and response to meld an affirmation of dreams becoming goals. He switches from Tuareg blues to jazz in his solo, then returns, without leaving the time signature on this mantra-like track, elevated by layers of percussion built into the mix. Another standout is the driving, backbone slip that is "Camel Shuffle." Ultimately Sadaka was well worth the wait. It furthers Sundy's reputation as a musical innovator, a compelling songwriter, and a guitar master.

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