If Samba Touré’s previous album, Albala, recorded during the Islamist coup in northern Mali, carried a lingering sense of sadness, its successor is defiant and powerful. Touré had intended it to capture more of his joyful side, which it partially achieves within the music’s rousing grooves and more electric, searing approach. Yet it does not abandon the darker aspects of life, its title translating as meaning either ‘land of drought’ or ‘burning land’, and the title track exploring the impact of the unrest on Mali’s people, agriculture and economics (‘our tears are not enough to make the ground fertile’). Yet this is also a strong voice for hope and positivity – of the desire to rebuild and renew.
Gandadiko begins with the whispering sound of a desert wind, before Samba’s guitar, more electric and forthright than on Albala, ushers in a loping shuffle groove. Like much of the rest of the album, Gandadiko is particularly strong vocally, with some compelling harmonies and a strength and precision in the delivery. Its a fierier statement, well attuned to the sense of crisis in the words, but it also feels like a portent – as if Samba and his excellent band are holding something back, lest matters become even more dangerous.
What Gandadiko presages is something restless and energetic, informed with the urgency of rock ‘n’ roll and brilliantly exploring the intersection between Malian music, blues and western rock. Wo Yende Alakar features a convesation between Touré’s vocals and abrasive, distorted, wah-wah lead guitar lines. Adama Sidibe is also an important presence here on the njarka, a traditional stringed instrument that is treated with effects here and sounds razor sharp. Like many of the songs here, there is an insistent and infectious riff that is hard to dislodge from the mind. The vocals, deep and resonant but not so obviously melodic, neatly mesh with the force and feeling in the music.
Elsewhere, the intersection with familiar rock forms is even more apparent. Su Wilile reclaims the famous shave-and-a-haircut rhythm from Bo Diddley, reminding us of its origins in African clave patterns, whilst I Kana Kono has a bluesy quality. Toure Idje Bibi brilliantly juxtaposes a guitar-driven groove (incorporating psychedelic flavours) with a distinctively Malian vocal melody line. Whilst some of the music feels almost apocalyptic, there is also something homely, celebratory and welcoming about these moments too.
There are also moments that seem to emphasise tradition and history a little more. Male Bano has a gentler, more lilting pace and a reflective mood whilst Farikoyo has a light, agile quality. Djimi Sissoko’s ngoni provides much of the texture here, a brittle foil for Touré’s shimmering lead guitar. Chiri Hari also provides a moment for introspection and thought, its repetitive ostinato pattern effectively supporting some imaginative improvising.
Gandadiko is a varied and inspired album with strong musical performances across a range of instruments. It feels engaged and defiant, but perhaps more inward looking than the inevitably direct political feeling behind Albala.