You sit next to a roaring fire within a secluded West African village. All around you are tribesmen, as well as visitors from all walks of life. The sweltering sun begins to descend behind a broad tree perched on a distant hill, casting tall shadows across the land. Tribe musicians gather behind bizarre instruments on one side of the fire. After a couple moments, they all raise their heads and open their mouths, and wispy spirits of all colors enter the lifted openings. The musicians close their mouths, lower their heads, and begin to play . . .
I’ve never before heard this much shredding without guitars. Ba Power is the latest full-length release from Malian native Bassekou Kouyaté and his band, Ngoni Ba. Ngoni Ba roughly translates to “The Big Ngoni,” a flawless title for what’s presented on this spirited record, given that you know what a ngoni is. A ngoni is a gourd-based lute, but Ngoni Ba don’t utilize just any ngoni. Their instruments have been electronically upgraded.
The band’s rhythm section has probably been enhanced the most since the group’s last album, with the addition of Robert Plant’s tasteful drummer, Dave Smith. Smith’s westernized beats provide a fresh contrast and solid foundation for the frantic yet highly-controlled ngoni soloing found on almost every track. The instrumental proficiency on this album is astoundingly impressive, and it’s loads of fun to listen to.
On top of everything is the powerful, melodious voice of singer Amy Sacko, former wedding singer and Kouyaté’s wife. While she effectively plays the role of ringleader for most of the songs, it’s truly the captivating ngoni performances on this record that bring this wonderful piece of music to a whole other level. Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba have truly made something special, something that transcends all languages. If you’re seeking thrilling, polyrhythmic music with adept musicianship, this album is for you.
– stasi (@stasisphere)