Album Reviews

Sidi Touré – Koïma

(Six Degrees) UK release date: 16 April 2012

Sidi Touré is not a name that naturally comes to mind when people speak of African music. In terms of tradition he is most definitely one of the new kids on the block. Sidi comes from a rich vein of Malian music that has been attracting long overdue attention from the Western world in recent years. He has been compared to the more well-known fellow Malian Ali Farka Touré (no relation) but is very much his own man.

Previously, ‘world music’ as it was termed (as if it were from another planet!) was hard to find, buy, listen to or read about. It was notoriously poorly recorded and, to our western ears getting attuned to ‘cd quality’ for the first time, it could sound naïve and unprofessional. And, strewth! They don’t even sing in English!

Thankfully through early champions (the late Charlie Gillett, Andy Kershaw, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon and most recently Damon Albarn), advances in technology, and a general interest in new sounds things are changing, which is as it should be. The backing of American indie label Thrill Jockey in 2011 saw Sidi’s previous album Sahel Folk propelled to new audiences to great response.

Koïma is Sidi’s second album and has advanced from the homespun duets of his debut (recorded live as a ‘field recording’ at his sister’s house) to a proper studio album recorded with full band. That’s not to say any of the original charm has gone, nor are there choirs of backing singers, brass sections and timpani drums. This is music of sparse beauty and wonderfully bubbling African rhythms on fantastic instruments (calabash anyone?) that mix traditional Mali music with more familiar Western sounds.

The songs themselves are mainly devotional in nature with mantra like repetitions, contrasting keening female backing set amidst rolling acoustic hills – tracks such as Aiy Faadji (I Am Nostalgic) evoke feelings beyond translation.

Uniting the album is Sidi’s songs, which are tributes to the Songhai folk music tradition, which, depending on the rhythm, are called Takambas, Holleys, Gao-Gaos or Shallos. Koïma also bullds on the intimacy set up by Sahel Folk but widens the arena to a more celebratory outward looking collection that mixes African magic and modern city-dwelling.

Title track Koïma (The Pink Dune Of Koïma) refers to a spiritual dune of Gao that “has its head in the sky and its feet in the waters of the river Niger making it a meeting place for the most powerful wizards of the world. Musically it is a complex animal with male and female vocals circling a guitar figure and percussive rattle. Woy tiladio (Beautiful Woman, Godess of Water) does in its trilling runs have fluidity to it. Tondi Karaa (The White Stone) lope around a bluesy riff the could be delta (American or African) and Sidi’s cries (possibly of White Stone) call to mind nothing less than Sting in The Police mode. A Chacun Sa Chance (To Each His Own Luck) features some violin work that could almost be a hip-hop sample. The sparse Euzo closes the album with some intricate acoustic work recalling Nick Drake or Bert Jansch at their most languid.

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More on Sidi Touré
Sidi Touré – Koïma
Sidi Touré – Sahel Folk