Al-Haji Papa Bunka Susso

Sotuma Sere

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This is a collection of traditional works for the kora from the Mandinka jali tradition. Faced with the success of the various jali traditions on the world market and the directions taken to combine them with modern dance music sensibilities, Papa Susso seized the opportunity to record an album of purely traditional (and acoustic) works. The songs chosen are perhaps the best known of the repertoire of the jalis, with the basic explanation of the tradition in "Jaliyaa" and the primary epic of West African lore in the tale of Sundiata Keita. A number of dignitaries and friends are praised in "Kaira," and "Tabara" tells the story of famed singer Tabara Njai. "Bani" is a revolutionary song from the slave trade era, "Tutu" praises a pre-colonial king, and "Allah I'a Ke" tells the story of a fight for the throne between two brothers. The kora playing is the focus here, with some of the ancient poems actually becoming solely instrumental works. The territory being covered on this album isn't necessarily new, with a number of jalis making noteworthy albums of traditional works in the past couple of decades (Jali Musa Jawara, Jali Musa Susso, Toumani Diabate). Nonetheless, this is a solid effort, and worth hearing for fans of the genre. It's in the upper ranks of similar albums, suffering only from competition and not from its own flaws. At the very least, those interested in West African jali traditions should give the album a listen or two.

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