Habib Koite & Bamada - Ma Ya

As vast as Africa is, it stands to reason that the continent would offer a diversity of pop music. Those who've listened to mostly soukous or zouk might think of African pop as exuberant, fast and hyper, but those whose only exposure to African music was contemporary Ethiopian pop might think of Afro-pop as moody and dusky. Reflective and folk-like, Habib Koite's Ma Ya is a far cry from African dance music. In 1998, the expressive Malian singer/guitarist enjoyed a lot of exposure in both Africa and Europe with Ma Ya, which didn't come out in the U.S. until early 1999. Backed by his band, Bamada, Koite is expressive and evocative on originals such as "Kumbin," "Wassive" and "Foro Bana." You might not understand the lyrics that Koite is singing, but it's obvious that he brings a lot of feeling and charisma to them. - by Alex Henderson, AMG

Habib Koite is the undisputed master musician of modern West African music. This is of course a value judgement, but no other contemporary performer has come so close to capturing the essence of classical instrumental musical of the Manding people alongside an undeniably accessible sensibility for Western melodic structure. By paring down the sound of his band, and using traditional arrangements, he has produced a smooth, warm sound that grooves like a python or a leopard out for a stroll. Simply put, Habib tears it up! While a former generation of West African stars (notably Youssou N'Dour from Senegal and greats such as Salif Keita and Oumou Sangare from Mali)have approached popular music from a vocal standpoint, Habib (perhaps in a similar fashion to Ali Farka Toure) has chosen to emphasize the instrumental approach and in particular the tradition of plucked stringed instruments such as the guitar-like ngoni and the 21-string kora. What seperates his music from more traditional offerings is the finesse of the arrangements (from a western musical perspective) which sacrifices none of the dynamic and rhythmic force of traditional Manding music but yet also enables a wonderfully coherent and supple melodic structure to emerge from the music. In this, he is aided by the other musicians of Bamada (virtuoso side men all), who contribute solos, riffs and solid support in an explicitly jazz-band fashion. One consequence of this is that Habib's live concerts follow a very jazz-like format with thematic statements, choruses, individual solos and corresponding applause from the audience. As an avowed traditionalist, my own personal favorites occur when sparse but judiciously placed rhythmic motifs punctuate the wonderful flow of the music. Check the tracks when the drummer switches from kit to playing a huge gourd with sticks. Beautiful. Trained as a western classical guitarist in addition to his undoubted expertise in several of the musical traditions of Mali, Habib positions his own music as a fusion of different musical forms. This has enabled him to develop a wonderful balance between rhythm, melody and harmony that has none of the overpowering sonic waves of performers like King Sunny Ade or Youssou. The wonderful understated arrangements also recall traditional griot music and the Fulani guitar traditions which Ali Farka Toure introduced to western audiences. - by Christopher Fung, Amazon.com

Artist: Habib Koité & Bamada
Album: Ma Ya
Year: 1998
Label: Contre-Jour
Runtime: 60:47

1.  Wassiyé 4:44
2.  Ma Ya 5:30
3.  Bitile 5:56
4.  Sirata 5:29
5.  Foro Bana 5:14
6.  Saramaya 5:05
7.  Kumbin 4:38
8.  Maraka Kaso 5:06
9.  Pula Ku 4:34
10.  Komine 4:58
11.  I Mada 5:43
12.  Mansane Cisse 3:47
All compositions by Habib Koité

Habib Koité (Guitar, Vocals)
Baba Sissoko (Tama, N'goni, Balafon, Caragnan)
Boubacar Sidibé (Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals,)
Souleymane Ann (Drums, Calebasse, Vocals)
Abdoul Wahab Berthé (Bass Guitar, Kamale n'goni)