Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba – I Speak Fula

I Speak Fula strips away some of the ponderousness that flawed the otherwise delightful debut album from this most explosive live band and reveals far more of Bassekou as a result

In the historic surrounds of Studio Bogolan and in the hands of super-engineer Jerry Boys, Bassekou’s ngoni band sound better than ever. Old playing partners like Toumani Diabat?© and Kasse Mady Diabat?© drop in and young whelks like Vieux Farka Toure get a chance to shine. But who is going to upstage the ngoni player who would not sit at the back but wanted to get his own piece of the spotlight?
‘Jamana be diya’, which draws parallels between the election of Barack Obama and the wisdom of Sunjata Keita (the founder of the Mali Empire and the entire warrior/griot system) also pairs the incomparable Toumani Diabat?© and Kasse Mady Diabat?©, griots both, with Ngoni ba for an exquisitely structured and powerfully delivered piece of music. When Kasse Mady proclaims in that powerful voice of his, my stomach actually tightens, meanwhile ngoni and kora weave in and out of each other like swallows in flight.
Like most of the songs on the album, ‘Jamana be diya’ reflects, updates or draws on the great stories that came out of the succeeding empires that have ruled this part of the world. Leaders and their griots locked forever into a symbiotic relationship, neither fulfilling their potential without the other. Not all the stories are glorious though. ‘Bambugu blues’ tells the story of a beloved Bamana leader with buck teeth who is mocked by a neighbouring Fula leader for being ugly. He takes a stone to his mouth and smashes his own teeth in. He dies days later. And if that guitar in the background sounds familiar, it is because it is Vieux Farka Tour?© playing his late father’s beloved instrument.
Other themes are traditional in the sense that they reflect traditional values such as devoted wives ‘Amy’ (named after Bassekou’s own wife and the band’s chief vocalist), chaste maidens ‘Timeni’, well brought up youngsters ‘Ladon’ or the circumcision of boys ‘Falani’. In the studio, these songs are like compressed springs, tight and precise, waiting, just waiting for the next tour when the band is going to let them loose and rock out big time. I can’t wait.
Release date: 20 September

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