Damon Albarn, Afel Bocoum, Lobi Traore, Toumani Diabate / Mali Music

24 abril 2009 | |

Following in the footsteps of his pop elders Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, and David Byrne, Blur and Gorillaz leader Damon Albarn acts as a world music ringleader with Mali Music. Serving as a benefit to the Oxfam charity, this first release from Albarn's own Honest Jon's label sees Albarn jamming on a haunted melodica alongside Malian musicians. Albarn traveled throughout Mali and recorded the source material at various venues, from small bars to village streets. Primary players include guitarists Afel Bocoum and Lobi Traore, kora player Toumani Diabate, and ngoni player Ko Kan Ko Sata Doumbia. Albarn brought the recordings into a professional studio, adding guitars, keyboards, percussion, and effects to a majority of the tracks, and the result is a thoroughly chilled album. Layered and rich musical tones emerge from pianos, samplers, xylophones, and chanting choirs. Beats and keyboards mingle effortlessly with the exotic instruments. It's often quite difficult to decipher what sonic flourishes were recorded live and which ones were crafted afterwards via computer. It's obvious that Albarn has conceived the album with an enormous respect for the musicians and culture at the heart of the project. Whether pulsing with the frenetic energy of "Makelekele," laid-back and shuffling as on "The Djembe," or presenting a pristine, serene mood on "Tennessee Hotel," the album intrigues and impresses at every turn. Though he might have a diva reputation, from Gorillaz to his soundtrack work with Michael Nyman and on to Blur for that matter, Damon Albarn proves once again that he's a master collaborator. Mali Music is a brilliant, eclectic treat comprised of truly mesmerizing sounds.

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