Label: Thrill Jockey Release date: 25/01/11 Link: Myspace

Mali's Sidi Toure's latest record, Sahel Folk, is only his second major label release but represents a major gateway for the UK into West African music as the most eminent musician from his home country. Many of us will not know much about him, but in his native Mali he is a bit of a prodigal son. Having fought family and social prejudices to follow his music career, Toure has been musically active since 1976 when he joined the Songhai Stars, the regional orchestra of Gao. Predominantly sung in his native language, Songhai, and also featuring many wonderful collaborations from local Malian artists, his music is a fusion of traditional Songhai-blues and more Westernised folk music and if nothing else represents a breath of fresh air for the more alternative music lovers here in the UK, although saying that, one of the first things that strikes you about Tour's music is how accessible it is considering how culturally different it is.

Whatâ's great about Sahel Folk is that it's almost entirely sung in Songhai. This means that as a listener we can just appreciate the music on offer as an aesthetic entity rather than analysing the lyrics. Of course, we could translate the lyrics, but when the music is as wonderfully beautiful as it is here, it seems to be beside the point. That's not to belittle the songwriting - Toue is clearly incredibly talented, and sings many of his songs to try and stimulate his country into action (Mali is incredibly poor) - but sometimes it's nice not to know everything about a song and to just guess what stories they're singing to each other. Another brilliant characteristic is that it's also wolly simple. Most of the tracks are just finger-picked acoustic guitar lines and vocals which gives the impression of a group of old friends sitting around one evening and singing and dancing together, which makes Sahel Folk as a listening experience very warm and comforting. The main weakness of the album, that everything sounds fairly similar and is the same format - almost doesn't matter not only because that's the style and intent of Sahel Folk but also because the record as a whole takes you away on a wonderful journey into a different culture and is fantastically refreshing musical experience.

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