Published Feb 20, 2010In the end, shredding is shredding. That's surely the reason why Malian ngoni wizard Bassekou Kouyate's I Speak Fula arrives on Sub Pop: he's a fine addition to the legion of stringed instrument heroes in the label's history. The ngoni, a four- or seven-stringed lute, is transformed by Kouyate's techniques. He has added strings, introduced new picking techniques and is unafraid to break out a wah pedal with surprisingly noisy results.
Drawing from Bamana folklore, Kouyate and his band Ngoni Ba supercharge their rhythms: even with a calabash as the main percussive force, theirs is a deep and commanding groove. The disc is even more irresistible thanks to the contributions of fellow experimentalists Toumani Diabate on kora, and Vieux Farka Toure on guitar, who both produce spellbinding melodic statements.
Though Kouyate is a griot (oral historian/musician), his unconventional approach pleases older generations. "In fact, I've never heard criticism or any reaction that was less than positive about these innovations!" he exclaims. "The old griots, guardians of the ngoni musical tradition, have congratulated me for bringing attention to this music, which was starting to die out." Kouyate is excited by the giant step up in exposure this new album represents: "I Speak Fula was a huge challenge, and I definitely felt it. But we're all professionals who have played this music since childhood, so the challenge was also a pleasure. I look forward to meeting open-minded audiences who have a real taste for African music."