Mali has long been a rich source of musical vitality with artists such as Salif Keita, Ali Farka Touré, Oumou Sangaré and Tinariwen building reputations over recent decades that saw their music cross boundaries and find appreciation in other continents. Recent years have also seen further exposure in the form of musical projects like the Damon Albarn-led 2002 Mali Music album, his later Africa Express project and other endeavours supported by record labels like World Circuit.
Afel Bocoum’s name might not be as immediately recognisable as some of those previously mentioned but he quietly fits into all of these narratives. He was part of Ali Farka Touré’s band during the 1980s and 1990s, he performed on Mali Music and as part of recent Africa Express shows and his 1999 album Alkibar showcased the rolling, Saharan guitar music that was to be popularised by younger artists over forthcoming years. His broader outlook and recent association with artists from further afield clearly rubs off on Lindé, his new album named after an area close to his hometown of Niafunké in Mali.
Opener Penda Djiga begins in intricate if slightly familiar fashion, a typically sun-baked, touareg musical vista of sorts, but small embellishments from other musicians soon help the album develop a broader personality. Bombolo Liilo sees The Skatalites’ Vin Gordon introduce trombone to the mix while Madou Diabaté brings glinting kora, here bringing an effect not dissimilar to light reflecting off precious stones. Fari Njungu features Joan As Police Woman on violin and the late Tony Allen appears on Avion and Djougal, instilling both tracks with a bustling, lopsided Afrobeat feel. Both offer evidence of an extension of the Africa Express aesthetic – both artists having featured in this project alongside Bocoum – Damon Albarn also acts as executive producer, further strengthening the ties.
Elsewhere Bocoum reverts to more tried and tested sounds – the female backing vocals on Dakamana and Yer Gando remain a consistently alluring addition while tracks like Sambu Kamba and Jaman Bisa effectively paint pictures of arid, dusty settlements. Musically, he ensures traditional African sounds are represented by including indigenous instruments like the ngoni, njurkele and calabash. It’s also an album that comes with a message, namely that music can be the force that fosters the positivity and togetherness which can be used to overcome problems. Bocoum summarises it by saying “our social security is music, that’s all we’ve got left”.
Overall, it adds up to form an accomplished album that manages to be both outward-looking while also proud of its heritage. A greater appreciation of African music may have developed in Europe and beyond over recent years but Lindé shows there’s always more artists to discover, always more songs to be heard.