CD Review – Salif Keita “Tale”
If you judged Mali by its music, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was the most peaceful and happy place on earth. A few months ago, I reviewed Ballake Sissoko’s meditative and beautiful, ‘At Peace’ whose heartbreaking kora and cello odes remain at the very top of my list of the best new compositions of 2013.
In the same way that Sissoko’s music bridged the gap between cultures by experimenting with the structures of western classical music and European jazz, Mali’s elder musical statesman, Salif Keita has recorded ‘Tale’, a new crossover album that incorporates aspects of hip hop, jazz, ambient, techno and dub into his already highly identifiable sound.
At times the diversity of music on ‘Tale’ can be a little overwhelming and occasionally takes away from the flow from song to song, but this is a small quibble to make about one of the most exciting world music albums I’ve heard this year. Keita has always been a restless spirit who seems to truly enjoy experimenting with new sounds and approaches to recording and singing a song, so it’s not surprising that this CD is so chock full of diverse musical ideas.
Salif Keita’s last album ‘La Difference’ was one of the most political recordings of his career. After two beautiful CDS ‘Moffou’ and ‘M’Bemba’ that highlighted the acoustic side of Keita’s repertoire, the songs on ‘La Difference’ explored the horrible situation that albino people in West Africa are forced to endure. Keita, himself, was born of royal blood to an ancient clan in Mali, but as an albino he was forced to abandon his birthright and live in exile in France for many years. Ancient superstitions that perceive albinism as a sign of bad luck created a situation where Keita could not take on his inherited role as dictated by the Malian caste system, so he became a singer which was an occupation traditionally pursued by one born into the griot caste. Hopefully, the sting of Keita’s personal misfortune has abated and he appreciates that it has translated itself into good luck for the rest of the world who has enjoyed the singer’s enduring music for more than three decades.
During this time, Keita has explored many different musical styles that living in France exposed him to. He first attracted global attention in 1988 with the release of ‘Soro’ one of the first recordings to blend traditional West African music with electronic keyboards and percussion. Though some of the songs on ‘Soro’ sound a little dated to our contemporary ears, the searching and envelope pushing that has long been Keita’s stock in trade can be heard on that record in its embryonic form.
During the intervening years, Keita has recorded songs that have embraced reggae (La Folon), hard rock (papa) as well as pop and French chansons that rival Edith Piaf in terms of range and emotional delivery.Musically speaking, the songs on ‘Tale’ range all over the stylistic map, but for the most part there is no problem with this. Songs like ‘Da’, ‘Natty’ and ‘Yala’ showcase Keita’s highly individual style of Malian music, and as ever the interplay between the guitar, drums, bass and loping backup vocals is completely intoxicating and demonstrate that the elder singer is still at the top of his game. Other tracks like the mesmerizing ‘A Demain’, ‘Apres Demain’ and ‘Samfy’ juxtapose Keita’s voice and melodies with electronica, trance and dub treatments. ‘C’est bon, C’est bon’, the hip hop duet with Roots Manuva sounds better and much less strained than one would imagine. The same is true of ‘Simby’ a duet with Bobby McFerrin that features some very joyous sparring between Keita’s vocal and McFerrin’s amazing vocal percussions. The album finishes with ‘Cherie S’En Va’, a heartfelt duet with Esperanza Spalding that reminds listeners why Salif Keita was dubbed the ‘golden voice of Africa’ long ago and that there’s still no one who can sing a hurting, longing love song better than him.
I’ve been spinning ‘Tale’ at least twice a day for the last month, and I’ve been giving copies to friends whenever I can. This CD belongs in your music collection. It may be the best twenty bucks (or pounds or francs or drachmas or whatever…) you spend in 2013. Like they say, you can’t take it with you, but when we die and if there is a heaven, I’m sure Keita’s music will be playing there.
This posting originally appeared at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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Review by Douglas Heselgrave