Africa - Lobi Traore, Habib Koite & Eric Bibb and Vusa Mkhay
You may not recognize Mkhaya's name but if you are a fan of African music there's a good chance you know his voice; he's a member of the popular Zimbabwean vocal group Insingizi. As the album title Vocalism indicates the emphasis here is on the singing and Mkhaya treats listeners to his purring a cappella style on songs such as the lullaby-like "Ulele" and the smooth-as-honey prayer "Ukukhala." "Diaspora" on the other hand, while just as silky vocally, floats along on a bed of psychedelic guitar played in the style more expected from West African artists. Mkhaya takes a backseat to the strong-voiced female vocalist Nomathamsanqa Mkhwananzi on another a cappella number, "Umakoti," only fitting since the tune is a wedding song and about the bride. Vocalism is very much African but Mkhaya, who now lives in Vienna, puts an interesting spin on the Austrian folk tune "Schweinsbeuschel" and also brings the sublime bustle of a Viennese street market to life in the buoyant "Brunnenmarkt." The a cappella styling here causes this set to sound very spiritual and Vocalism will likely appeal to open-minded fans of gospel music as much as it does to lovers of world music.
Habib Koite & Eric Bibb
Brothers in Bamako
American guitarist Eric Bibb opens this album, a pairing with Malian guitarist Habib Koite, singing about how he's never been to West Africa but how he's pretty sure that his arrival in Bamako, Mali will feel somehow like a homecoming. Koite returns the sentiment in a somewhat humorous manner on the following song "L.A.;" the Los Angeles-honoring song is sung entirely in French except for one line signifying Koite's infatuation with a certain libation, "Tequila make me happy! One shot, two shots, three shots, four shots, five…" There's nothing too boisterous here though; Brothers in Bamako is mostly vocally understated, favoring instead the showcasing of the talents of these two skilled strings men. Album highlight "Tombouctou," about the Malian city westerners call Timbuktu, is a perfect example of a meshing of African and western sounds that demonstrates that these geographically disparate artists share more similarities than they do differences, a quality that permeates the entire album.
Kanaga System Krush
Traore died two years ago but this posthumous release demonstrates exactly why he was known as the African Jimi Hendrix. Traore didn't go overboard with guitar pyrotechnics (although there is some here); he earned the Hendrix comparison by doing for Malian music what Hendrix did for rock and the blues: standing it on its head. "Banan Ni," for example, drips with Africanized psychedelia, sounding a bit like something Traffic might have done. About half of this set finds Traore experimenting with Afro-psych but there are also more traditional sounding tunes like "Saya" included.