Thursday, November 26, 2015

Sounds of West Africa: The Kora & The Xylophone

This is a beautiful and compelling album of music from the nations of Ghana, Gambia and Senegal featuring the gorgeous, lush sounds of the lute-like kora and the hypnotic and highly rhythmic xylophone or balophon, and released by the Lyrichord label.

The latter is the specialty of the Lobi and Dagarti peoples of northern Ghana, who, as the informative liner notes by Richard Hill indicate, preserved their music despite pressures from Muslim and European influences.

Conversely, the kora is an instrument that came from Islamic sources in north Africa, even if the rhythms generated by it are reflective of sub-Saharan antecedents.

The recording features sixteen mainly short (3 minutes and under) pieces with a few longer works in the 4-5 minute range--the effect is to get a notable variety of musical elements that reflect the rich diversity found in the three countries.

Works performed at festivals, work songs, wedding pieces, and songs reflecting the importance of the griot in preserving oral tradition are found on the album.  For this listener, the xylophone is a fascinating instrument with a strong sense of timbre, as well as rhythm, while the kora pieces impress grearly with the complexity, virtuosity and agility of the performers accompanied by interesting vocalizations.

The tenth track, Nabaya, and the trio of tunes at the end of the record include Foday Musa Suso, whose music has been featured previously on this blog (along with another excellent kora master, Alhaji Bai Konte.)

Someone coming to west African music for the first time will benefit from hearing the range of songs and instrumentation featured on this album, but those who have some experience with this amazing music will enjoy the selections, too, as representative of a remarkable tradition.

No comments:

Post a Comment