Mali's quite possibly the country with the richest music in West Africa, and many of the musicians have close relatives in Guinea -- indeed, there's a strong musical overlap between the two countries. With much of the music using the kind of pentatonic scale heard in blues and rock, it's also some of the most accessible African music to Western ears, as the piece by Toumani Diabate and Taj Mahal shows all too well, and which can be traced back to the Sahara roots of Ali Farka Toure's "Allah Uya" or "Alasidi" by his protegé Afel Boucoum. That, however, represents only one fact of the music of this region. There's also the complex structures of the Rail Band (also known as the Super Rail Band), who've done more than anyone to modernize the traditional music of Mali, thanks in large part to superb guitarist and leader Djelimady Tounkara. As close a Guiinean equivalent as is possible, the excellent Bembeya Jazz National sound wickedly wonderful on "Lan Naya." Boubacar Traore, whose career underwent a revival in the late '90s, airs his "Mali Twist," a song that woke Malians on national radio every morning after independence in the early '60s. While the female Wassoullou tradition isn't shown per se (no Oumou Sangare, for example), Nahawa Doumbia comes close, her rough tones from Southern Mali offering a rural alternative to the relatively slick city sounds from Bamako. Both countries have some strong music on offer, with Guinea's Momo Wandel Soumah a real standout, like an African Tom Waits. There are omissions, of course -- no Habib Koite or Rokia Traore to show the rising younger singer/songwriters who hew to tradition without bowing before it -- but this remains an impressive introduction to some wonderful music.
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AllMusic Review by Chris Nickson