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Live Music Review Malian masters in exhilarating form

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni ba
Subterranea, London
 

WITH THE demeanour of complete paternal authority over proceedings, Bassekou Kouyate cuts the figure of a tribal elder centre stage — until his wife Amy Sacko sings.  The audience gasps at her vocal range and crystalline delivery across ascending scales.

She's very much a focus of this family line-up, with Kouyate's son Madou on bass, Abou Sissoko on medium ngoni, Moctar Kouyate on calabash and Mahamadou Tounkara  — the clown in the outfit — on doundoun, yabara and tama.

The Malians are here to entertain and they do so with great abandon as the players of the ngoni — a precursor of the banjo and guitar — converse exhilaratingly among themselves.

The endearing flashes of showing-off and a breath-taking instrumental dexterity are noisily appreciated. Kouyate complains, good-naturedly, that the British cold is stiffening his and the band's fingers. If so, you couldn’t tell.
 
The songs are long, ebbing and flowing with their potent rhythms eminently danceable to, yet their melodious themes and extraordinary musicianship invite attentive listening and quieter appreciation, as is the case with the instrumental Miri, the title song of their new album.

Miri means contemplation and reflection and although its musical language captivates, its exact meaning can only be guessed at as it addresses the present political upheavals in their country.
 
But the high point is the jaw-dropping Konya, a magnificent piece in which the unique colouring of Sacko’s voice rips the place apart with it seemingly impossible high tones. It castigates the jealousy that has been corrupting the soul of African societies and it is heart-wrenching.
 
Last April, this band filled the stunning main auditorium of Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie and, while the intimate Subterranea is no slouch as a venue, surely next time they visit Britain they deserve a booking at a major space like London's Barbican London or Manchester's Bridgewater Hall?

Miri is available on Outhere, price £10.99.

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