29 May 2006

Monday's mp3: Casamance on My Mind

While I've never been to Senegal, it looms large in my musical mind, with such superstar artists as Cheikh Lô, Baaba Maal, Youssou N'Dour, and Thione Seck. But a lesser-known region of the country is increasingly coming to mind: Casamance.

South of the bulk of Senegal, Casamance is largely cut off from the rest of the country by The Gambia. Though it reportedly has excellent tourism draws including beaches and wildlife, the region is less recognized culturally and economically disadvantaged. due in large part to regional conflict in recent years.

You can learn more about Casamance from this BBC feature, including audio. And for Casamance photos and information, check out www.au-senegal.com.

Casamance is in mind largely because of a confluence at the recent World Sacred Music Festival. Included in the festival were Casamance drummer Modibo Traore, and kora player Kane Mathis. And somehow listening to the beautiful strains of Kane's West African harp led us back to the music of Lamine Konte. His 1987 album La Kora Du Senegal apparently is now out of print, though you can find it in a few places online. Lamine Konte - La Kora Du Senegal

You won't learn much about Konte from allmusic.com, which sums up this album with the economical description: "Beautiful music comes from the great kora master." More instructive is this background:

Trained at the Arts Institute of Dakar, his musical interpretations include the poetry of the founders of the Negritude movement in the thirties, such as Léopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal and Aimé Césaire of Martinique, it also includes African legends and African love songs. Lamine Konté also writes poems. His performances are a celebration of his homeland and the peoples of the African Diaspora in general.

Other kora players have eclipsed Konte in recent years, but this album has special appeal. It displays an early, subtle fusion that includes touches of Latin and jazz, with some surprisingly well-integrated piano alongside kora, flute, balafon, hand drums, and vocal harmonies.

[mp3] Lamine Konte: "Fode Kaba"
from the album La Kora Du Senegal

similar albums to check out:
  • Ludovico Einaudi & Ballake Sissoko - Diario Mali: New kora-piano duet album, lovely in places, though the it seems aimed more at piano fans, as the kora often is relegated to a supporting role.
  • Kane Mathis and Rusty Knorr - Kora and Percussion: Traditional tunes on kora and djembe from this magnificent Seattle-based duo (who have recently added a bass player to their mix and are working on a new album).
  • Prince Diabate - Djeleron: A fusion-friendly master kora player from Guinea, who was recently featured on Spin the Globe radio.
  • Thione Diop - Sunu Africa: Senegal-born Diop is a Seattle-based djembe master, and while the album focuses on drum rhythms, some kora is included.
  • Etienne Cakpo & Joselito Atchade (Gasango) - Ji: Farther from the roots of traditional griot/jali music, this wonderful album features kora by Kane Mathis.
Finally, since today is Memorial Day in the USA, we'll take a moment to recognize the casualties of the ongoing US war in Iraq.
  • US military deaths: 2464
  • US military injuries: 17869
  • Iraqi civilian casualties: unknown
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