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They say lightning never strikes twice, but this return by the 'Golden Voice of Mali' undermines that claim somewhat. Using much the same team that came up with the stunning Moffou, Mbemba keeps up a very high standard.

M'Bemba is a largely acoustic album with a strong feel forKeita's Mande roots. And his core group of musicians is more or less unchanged. Kante Manfila, ­ his old colleague from the Malian supergroup Les Ambassadeurs ­ brings back his beautifully realised arrangements and distinctive instrumental voice on guitar. Ditto long-term sidekick Ousmane Kouyaté and Djelly Moussa Kouyaté. Percussionist Mino Cinelu is still creating marvellously cinematic atmospheres. There's a swooping female chorus haunting most tracks, and producer Jean Lamoot is still exerting his guiding influence on Keitas sometimes erratic taste.

But Mbemba has a lusher, more saturated sound, and it's upbeat, featuring the kind of studio effects and urgency of voice that characterised 1987 album Soro.

The sense of narrative and momentum hits you the minute "Bobo" appears gradually out of the silence with its insistent cyclical guitar motif. Things head for the dance floor and stay there on "Laban", which has the structure that's typical of vintage Congolese rumba. And there's some delightfully crunchy interplay of guitar and the small banjo-like ngoni on "Yambo". Whatever story Keita sings, he does it with maximum conviction, and this is nowhere more evident than on the epic title track, which features the wonderful Toumani Diabaté on kora and recalls the flowing grace of Jali Musa Jawara's classic "Haidara". And the presence of a guest vocal by Buju Banton tacked onto Ladji is at best irritating. But the closing ghostliness of "Moriba", with Keita accompanied by Adama Coulibaly on an otherworldly 7-stringed simbi should quell any doubts, Mbemba is overwhelmingly a very fine listen, easily maintaining Salif Keita's astonishing post-millennial form.
by Jon Lusk
The Grammy nominated West African artist, Salif Keita, whose voice The Washington Post once declared as "one other mortals can only aspire to" returned after many years to Bamako, Mali to record M'Bemba, a remarkable, multifaceted collection which beautifully blends native choirs (comprised of his foster sisters), rolling hypnotic guitars, happily dancing percussion, and such indigenous instruments as ngoni lute and kora. These evoke the memory of Keita's ancestor, Sundiata Keita, the warrior king who founded the Mandingo Empire in the 13th century. Over the course of an hour, Keita -- whose globally successful 35-year career has somewhat offset the hardships he's faced in his homeland being an albino and a musician -- weaves a true tapestry of all of his favorite global influences. These include rock, soul, French chanson, and Afro-Cuban rhythms, all stirred up around his deep, guttural vocals, echoing chants, the seductive, jangling guitars, and a variety of earthy grooves. On the gentler reflections, like the opening track "Bobo," and the sweet, anthemic title track (enhanced by the female chorus), there's a hauntingly beautiful sense of history mixed with struggle and, ultimately, optimism. While the album will mostly be enjoyed by fans of real-deal African music, newcomers will hopefully be inspired to begin mining Keita's rich history as both a musician and a survivor.
by Jonathan Widran


EmArCy (EU)
Salif Keita
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