Sorry Bamba - Volume One, 1970-1979

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2011-06-20

This musical snapshot of a decade in the career of Malian band-leader and multi-instrumentalist Sorry Bamba provides a perfect jumping-on point for new fans. His story alone is an involving one: Bamba survived the death of his parents when he was 10-years-old, Mali's strict caste system which forbade him from making music, and poverty (his first band, Group Goumbe, used a metal barrel for a drum and a tin box full of pebbles for a castanet) to become one of the most popular musical acts in Mali. Volume One, 1970-1979 chronicles the apex of his career.

Bamba and the Kanaga Orchestra, his group on this compilation, mix the homegrown Malian sound with funk, soul, jazz and Afro-Cuban jams. Perhaps because Mail had only recently gained independence from France, an unbridled, blue sky sense of freedom is palpably communicated on most tracks. It can be felt most keenly in the chiming guitar line of 'Yayoroba' and the hopping 'Astan Kelly', which acts as a showcase for Bamba's flute playing skills. The trance-like nature of the music can also be enthralling; second track 'Boro' is a slow-winding, constantly shifting jam, while on 'Sare Mabo' the shimmering guitar and reproachful horns intertwine in a way while seems curious to Western ears.

This was a time when many African artists were seeking to push traditional music forward, and Bamba shot to the forefront of this movement by incorporating new technology into his sound. The results are fantastically exciting; standout track 'Sayouwe' s a pounding, scorching Afro-funk workout which is punctured by some splashes of spacey synth which are at once incongruous and utterly thrilling. At one point, the horns drop away leaving just a writhing, syncopated break-beat and some wah-wah guitar before a war cry heralds an enthusiastic volley of synth sounds. It's like hearing the future unfold before you, from funk to hip hop to electro and on and on, and it's quite breathtaking.

Listening to this compilation, you're confronted with a sometimes jaw-dropping awareness of hearing a group of musicians at the peak of their powers, able to improvise and push each other forward as on the the 11 minute jazz-influenced, ever evolving jam 'Poory'. Much of this music is marinated in an infectious joy at being able to do what you want, to push at the horizons and explore possibilities.

If you're just discovering the staggeringly rich stream of music which emerged from Africa in the 70s than this is a pretty good starting point. Give it some proper listening time and let the snake-like grooves seduce you and sink into your pores. You won't be sorry.

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