There has been a big resurgence of interest lately in the musical genealogy of blues and jazz. For many years, these genres have been proudly held up as strictly American institutions, but now, many artists are blurring those boundaries and linking themselves more closely to Africa and specifically to Mali, where the musical rhythms are eerily similar.
Dee Dee Bridgewater, a well known American jazz singer has discovered a deep connection with Mali after visiting and this plays itself out in the 2007 Red Earth - A Malian Journey a simmering blend of jazz with traditional Mali instruments and vocals. Her scat-singing particularly, replicates the African instruments exactly. This is a daring record and Dee Dee’s affection for Mali is evident in both the excellent liner notes and the corresponding photos inside. If you were expecting Stormy Weather though, this might not work for you. Definitely more Mali than Mack (the Knife) this is not typical jazz, so be warned. (Fans won’t be disappointed though and will applaud the artistic growth displayed here).
Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin’s lead singer and no stranger to the blues himself, made a trip a few years ago to attend the 2003 ‘Festival in the Desert’ – a sort of nomadic Woodstock in the Sahara. The resulting CD of the same name is certainly noteworthy to fans of world music, but even though Plant’s contribution Win my Train Fare Home is authentic and well executed, those who don’t care for full-on African tunes might find the other selections too different to get regular rotation.
In contrast, Putumayo Presents' Mali to Memphis is a bullet point reference for the blues with seamless transitions as it weaves back and forth. This is one of my very favorite cds. The tracks are well selected blues tunes (you will find John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters here) as well as traditional Mali ones which are incredibly hooky; in fact, you may find yourself dancing in a very primal way as you set the table ...
The whole record is slinky and addictive. Whether you want impressive background music for a summer BBQ or quality music for when you are outside sipping something swell, this is the one!
Ry Cooder, well known American blues guitarist made Talking Timbuktu , a Grammy award winning collaboration with Ali Farka Toure in 1994 but it remains a classic, especially in terms of highlighting the Mali-American blues connection. This record also helped to introduce the western world to the late Ali Farka Toure, a hugely talented Mali musician who became close friends with Cooder. Toure did not enjoy touring or indeed, performing, but he ended up doing both when he recorded this album in the US. Although he was known as “The Bluesman of Africa” Toure always maintained that Mali was the blues’ rightful birth mother. My favorite (and definitely the most seductive) track is Ai Du. This piece achieved some notoriety in the Richard Gere and Diane Lane movie Unfaithful but strangely, did not make the actual soundtrack.Ai Du has a slow, unwavering bass line that sounds deeply bluesy; in fact, if Hoochie Coochie Man had an older, more experienced brother, he might sound like Ai Du. Listen in the dark.