Another venture into world music from Thrill Jockey brings us this compilation spanning a decade in the musical life of Sorry Bamba, the Malian arranger and orchestra leader. Relatively unknown outside of Africa, this release was created with his input and should go some way to making a Western audience aware of him.

Tantalisingly, the Volume One tag suggests that there is a lot more material from where this came from, and the music here only reflects his output from the 1970s. Given that the only time I had previously heard of Bamba was on the various artists compilation World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's A Real Thing - The Funky Fuzzy Sounds Of West Africa, I had expected more of a standard 70's Afrobeat, Afro-funk feel to this album, but it has a much broader range than that.

In the 70's Bamba was band leader of the Regional Orchestra of Mopti, which went on to become the Kanaga Orchestra by the end of that decade, a name symbolizing the god Amma, creator of the Dogon people. This is where the background becomes important. Mali gained independence in 1960 and there had become a cultural conflict between modernising the country (and Malian art and music) and preserving its own traditions. This selection shows that Bamba was positioned right in the middle of this. As the leader of the Regional Orchestra he crafted his work around Malian folk traditions but he mixed it with Latin rhythms, American jazz, funk and psychedelia, creating something fresh and unique in the process.

The compilation opens with 'Yayoroba' - a delicate repetitive guitar melody drives this along through its six minute duration, the guitar solo is lovely too. His vocals are powerful here, soaring above the swirl, and entering a call and response with the other musicians. 'Boro' continues this idea, the vocals bounce back and forth between him and his 'orchestra' over a great looping guitar riff. Traditional flute gives way to an extended and slightly wigged out guitar solo, a great example of how Bamba mixes his traditional music with contemporary western influences. Gambari shows off his distinctive vocal style, it's mostly a spoken rant over a lengthy guitar part, which after some tasty massed horns gives way to a soaring lead vocal. 

'Astan Kelly' is more conventionally West African pop, a pretty flute melody sets up a breezy tune, but again it gets taken to other stranger places courtesy of the sublime guitar parts and Bamba's rants. You start to wish you knew what he was saying! 'Sayouwe' is a bit more psychedelic with organ stabs and driving percussion with a shifting vocal arrangement. The epic 'Poory' is arguably his best known tune. Weaving trumpets over more swirling backgrounds, Bambas voice carries above this with such clarity and power, it shifts focus and stays interesting over its 11 minute duration. 

'Bayadjourou' is probably my favourite, driven along by repetitive percussion with an excellently spacey guitar solo, I think it's fair to say this had an influence on what the likes of Can were creating during the 1970s as well.

 

I imagine it has been difficult to trim down a decade's work to a single compilation but this selection succeeds in showcasing the variety in Bamba's work whilst still sitting together well as a set. It's both a useful introduction and an interesting primer to his work.  

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