Malian Musicians & Damon Albarn, Mali Music

Hua Hsu

By Hua Hsu

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Mali Music

Malian Musicians & Damon Albarn
A truly unexpected triumph

To those who had maintained a passing interest in Damon Albarn's solo material — usually reserved to an instrumental shuffle on a Blur album or soundtrack — the triumph of Mali Music was truly unexpected. Albarn traveled through Mali as part of an Oxfam delegation, jamming with local kids and musicians — most notably Afel Bocoum and Toumani Diabate. Albarn's involvement seems to be minimal, humming along to furiously plucked guitars, imagining harmonies in unfamiliar keys and filling in spaces with plumes of melodica. These sketches of song collected on the road were then reassembled in the studio, though the fragmentary, textured feel of the original recordings remain: wisps of haunted chants, bursts of strident, sawing strings, mysterious drops of kalimba. Some bottom-end is added to "Kela Village" while a dance track emerges to absorb the strident chorus of "Makelekele." A common melody smoke-rings through "4 A.M. at Toumani's" and "Institut National Des Arts." In a rare spotlight turn, Albarn grabs onto that evocative shard for the stunning, hopeful "Sunset Coming On," Mali Music's most conventional moment. This is a mesmerizing and intimate album that benefits from Albarn's ear, as well as his ultimate willingness to surrender his front-man status.