Wednesday, October 27, 2010

AfroCubism: AfroCubism (2010)

AfroCubism is World Circuit's dream project. This was Nick Gold's original idea for the Buena Vista Social Club - a stellar collaboration of musicians from Mali and Cuba. 13 years ago, a tale of lost passports meant that the Africans never arrived and so instead, a rather fine but different record was made. Now the original plan has finally been realized with an incredible group of musicians. Original invitees Cuban singer/guitarist Eliades Ochoa and the Malians Bassekou Kouyate (ngoni) and Djelimady Tounkara (electric guitar) are joined by Eliades' Grupo Patria, Toumani Diabate (kora), Kasse Mady Diabate (vocals) and Lasana Diabate (balafon). This extraordinary band came together to record an album and in the process have created a wonderful new sound.
AfroCubism are a supergroup with a history that would make any publicist drool, and an album that almost does justice to their considerable talents. Fourteen years ago, the Malian guitarist Djelimady Tounkara and n'goni player Bassekou Kouyate were supposed to fly to Cuba to take part in the sessions that produced the legendary Buena Vista Social Club. They never turned up, which was perhaps just as well for those Cubans who became international celebrities late in life, thanks to a bestselling album that didn't need African input. But now the collaboration has taken place, at last, with Djelimady and Bassekou joined by other more newly celebrated Malians, including kora virtuoso Toumani Diabate and singer Kasse Mady Diabate working alongside the Cuban Buena Vista star Eliades Ochoa and his band. They have recorded an elegant, gently exquisite album, and it's a reminder that while Malians are at ease playing Cuban songs – which have been popular for decades across West Africa – Cubans are not so familiar with the griot tradition. But the collaboration works. There are some classy and varied tracks, from Tounkara showing off his guitar skills on Djelimady Rumba and the Cuban favourite La Culebra, through to Bassekou and Ochoa mixing Malian and Cuban influences in their reworking of Jarabi, and Bassekou, Toumani and Ochoa providing a delicate improvisation around the well-worn Guantanamera. If these great musicians stay together, they are surely capable of even more.
This summit meeting between the grandees of Cuban and Malian music was originally intended as part of the Buena Vista Social Club, an acknowledgment of the huge influence of Latin music on West Africa. Much delayed, the project proves dazzling. Stetsoned Cuban singer-guitarist Eliades Ochoa trades songs and licks with Rail Band guitarist Djelimady Tounkara and singer Kasse Mady Diabate among others. There's rural languor ("Jarabi"), scorching dance numbers ("Nima Diyala") and fabulous, intricate playing at every turn. The numbers are mostly standards, but none emerge unchanged by the transatlantic dialogue between the masters of kora, balafon and tres guitar. A delight.
There's a great story behind 'AfroCubism'. When Nick Gold & Ry Cooder went to Cuba back in 1996, they were intending to record Malian mucians with Cuban musicians. But the Malians never showed up (visa issues apparently) so there they were with 3 weeks booked in the studio and no collaboration. They worked on other ideas and ended up recording Buena Vista Social Club - the rest, as they say, is history. Or world music history at least :) The original idea for the project - AfroCubism - has finally seen the light of day, so is it worth the wait? Well, the band is certainly more of a supergroup than it would have been back in 1996 - Cuban Eliades Ochoa & Malians Bassekou Kouyate & the kora genius Toumani Diabate in particular having high profiles in their own right these days, and the album more than reflects the considerable talent of all those involved. The discipline of the Cuban rhythm section makes sense of collaborations involving the looser more improvisational Malian style. There is even a fresh & enjoyable improvisation re-working of 'Guantanamera'! This record blends traditions, pushes boundaries & gives you something thoroughly enjoyable to listen to. If you loved Buena Vista Social Club then you will love this too. Joy & exuberance abound!
01.Mali Cuba (5:38)
02.Al Vaiven De Mi Carreta (5:00)
03.Karamo (6:56)
04.Djelimady Rumba (3:11)
05.La Culebra (3:34)
06.Jarabi (5:57)
07.Eliades Tumbao 27 (1:17)
08.Dakan (2:15)
09.Nima Diyala (3:36)
10.A La Luna Yo Me Voy (4:00)
11.Mariama (4:00)
12.Para Los Pinares Se Va Montoro (4:14)
13.Bensema (4:58)
14.Guantanamera (4:05)
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