Sahel Folk, the title of guitarist and songwriter Sidi Touré's second album, is literal in every sense of the word. The set was cut over the course of a few days at his sister Geika's house in Gao, Mali. The "friends" referred to on the cover are just that. The songs were rehearsed one at a time, each with a different friend, and then cut live in two takes the next day. In essence, Sahel Folk is a field recording, and is issued by Chicago's Thrill Jockey imprint. Though this is only Touré's second album as a solo artist -- his debut, Hoga, was issued 13 years ago in Mali, was a very different, electric guitar affair -- he has been recorded often as the frontman of the Songhai Stars, and twice won Mali's National Bienale contest. The music on Sahel Folk is low-key, repetitive to the point of being hypnotic, and deeply soulful. As a guitarist, Touré plays what is commonly referred to as Songhai Blues, because it is rooted in the Western Pentatonic scale and follows a recognizable pattern -- though not the I-IV-V progression associated with American blues -- and is sung in the songhai language that marks the Sahel region, which contains both desert and jungle. His more famous predecessor, the late Ali Farka Touré (no relation) trademarked this sound globally. Touré's playing style is half-fingerpicked and half-strummed, creating both melody and rhythm simultaneously. While the entire album is immediately approachable for its simplicity and intimacy, its highlights include the opener “Adema,” and "Sinji" with Jiba Touré singing duet, "Bera Nay Wassa" with Douma Sisse also playing guitar, and the moaning "Toray Kongo," with Jambala Maiga singing and playing kuntigui (a mono-chord guitar). Throughout, the listener is invited inside the music, and despite the language barrier, the sheer, emotion invoked in these songs gets across. Sahel Folk is an enriching and meditative listening experience, and introduces another aspect of the great -- and seemingly inexhaustible -- Malian Songhai musical tradition to the West.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek