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Samba Touré
Gandadiko Richie Troughton , February 20th, 2015 14:09

Samba Touré's last album Albala packed an inspired punch of rebellious fury as turmoil in Mali was at a peak. Two years later, and with ongoing uncertainty in the north African country, Samba is still fired up as he sings of how to rebuild the "burning land," or "land of drought" - as the title of new record Gandadiko translates from the Songhaï. Having begun his musical career as a singer, Samba was in his 30s when he first picked up a guitar on the recommendation of his mentor, Songhaï blues great Ali Farka Touré (who he toured with in the 1990s), and here he continues to develop his own experimental and electric style of Malian folk.

The songs reveal the untold story of the crisis in Mali not covered by news headlines – of the plight of people having lost everything in the aftermath, from jobs to herds of livestock. Album opener 'Gandadiko' begins with an atmospheric sweep of sound from a desert sandstorm, hovering over a repeated guitar line that unfolds into Samba's familiar rolling style of guitar playing, peeling off sublime licks as the rich tenor of his voice lead a call and response vocal. The warm, dry sound vividly conveys the barren soil to match the lyrics' message, "There is nothing more to eat for the herds, Cows are only skin and bones" – an outcome that led to a rapid drop in value of cattle, now worth a fraction of the price from just a couple of years ago.

In preparing for this LP, Samba found the best time for discovering new music was through the CD deck in his car driving in and around Bamako. At times the album has a road movie feel, with much of the music and lyrics describing the landscape. These listening sessions also reveal some surprising influences, like the insistent Bo Diddley-beat that drives 'Su Wililé' (The Living Dead), with added calabash and traditional African percussion as Samba's take breathes fresh life into the sound and would surely have delighted "The Originator". Lyrically the song is a sobering awareness tale, warning against drink and drugs; spookily, on the night it was recorded, an alcoholic friend of Samba's died. The guitarist believed the recording of another album track, 'Gafoure', may have contributed to this, serving as a reminder that the powers of this music are not to be taken lightly.

On 'Gafoure,' Samba turns to the supernatural for inspiration as a Djinn, or evil spirit, is invoked. The booklet leaves the lyrics untranslated "for your own security," to avoid falling under its spell - advising that listening at night is at your own risk. At a quarter of the speed, the main riff would not be out of place on an Earth record, before the song spirals into more experimental territory as Samba appears to enter dialogue with someone/thing else in the room. 'Wo Yende Alakar' also explores darker territory, warning, "Don't play with fire." Adama Sidibé's violin-like njarka weaves a teasing dance in and out of the guitar lines over a menacing, stomping rhythm, as Samba speaks the cautionary lyrics, "You can't beat away the devil easily / When you have already opened the door to him."

Samba's walking blues guitar lines around the dizzying njarka and Djimé Sissoko's ngoni create a hazy feel on 'Male Bano'. Samba's laid back delivery sounds as if he has just got out of bed as he groans into the mic before lyrics begin rolling from his tongue, perhaps acting out the lead role in this domestic tale of a man taking the hard work of his wife for granted. 'Farikoyo' picks up the pace in praise of hard working farmers who shun the opportunity of making money in the city to help feed the poor in rural areas. 

The trance-like pop of 'Touri Idjé Bibi' sees Mariam Traoré duet with Samba on the repetitive chorus over a shimmering riff, Baba Arby's steady bass groove and njarka melodies. Although the sound is a joy, the lyrics, "Every day we offend you," beg the Earth for forgiveness, for letting everything die, like the "black fruits" of the title.

The upbeat Bambara-style 'I Kana Korto' offers a message that there is no "hurry" in life and that "you have the time" in work and relationships in order for the right circumstances to fall into place. And there is more optimism on album closer 'Woyé Katé' as Samba calls for those who have fled Mali to return and show solidarity, "It is necessary to return to the country today, Show to everyone that we are together, That the division is an error, That it is a lie they invented, To allow them to control everything." This call for unity is put into practice, as Samba and guest vocalist Ahmed Ag Kaedi of Tuareg group Amanar come together to defy those who had recently tried to ban music in Mali.

The flawless tracks on Gandadiko roll together with the ease of a musician at his best. The resilient message of Samba's lyrics in the face of adversity is ably backed up by the sonic power of the music with a confident hypnotic flow throughout.