06 February 2012

Monday's mp3: Wilkommen in GerMali

A lot of my global music friends seemed to take delight in shunning yesterday's Super Bowl. Me, I didn't ignore it entirely, although it wasn't until Wednesday or Thursday last week that I realized it was imminent. No, I pulled the TV over near the kitchen so I could bake bread and cook other delectables while keeping an ear on the game.

I'm a regular viewer (and player) of the other kind of football, the kind the rest of the world plays. And my view of American football isn't far removed from that of George Will, who quipped: "Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings." 

But as some sort of cultural commentator, I find value in keeping at least a tenuous connection with the popular happenings in my own country as well as seeking out the sounds of faraway lands. And it wasn't such a bad game, even for those of us with no horse in the race. On the music front, I have to admire the logistics of squeezing a major stage show onto a grass field with just a few minutes for setup and teardown, and I'll admit that Madonna is a consummate entertainer, if not particularly engaging or original. 

All of which brings us around to music I'm much more excited about. I haven't stopped listening to The Rough Guide to the Music of Morocco since posting about it last week, so be sure to check that out. 

This week, we head a bit farther south, to where German-born Leni Stern is collaborating with some Malians in a project that reminds me a bit of the work of Markus James. On her new album Sabani, Stern not only plays her guitars but also the n'goni ba, her love of which goes back to a visit to West Africa in 2006:

I have been playing the n’goni since I first came to Mali in 2006 to
perform at The Festival in the Desert. I met Bassekou Kouyate there, Mali’s
most famous n’goni player. He and his whole family have been teaching
me ever since. Last September we performed together at the presidential
palace to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence. 50 years - 50
n’goni's. In the 50 n’goni orchestra, I sat next to the n’goni ba, the
instrument of Basskou’s father, played by his bother Fousseni. I fell in
love with its warm, soft sound.

Along with her primary collaborators -- Haruna Samake and Mamadou Kone -- Stern has crafted eight engaging, lyrical songs. With lyrics in both English and unspecified African languages (Mande, I presume), the songs are more examples of the increasing tendency toward borderless music. The blending of Western and Jali instruments feels natural, a modern sound with deep roots in African tradition that support but don't constrain.

The album is too short at 34 minutes, but they are a rich 34 minutes. Just check out the bluesy blend on "I Was Born (Ibe Keneya)" and you'll get a feel for their sound.

Stern is currently on tour in the USA.

Tour dates:
02|07|2012 Yoshi's - San Francisco - CA
02|12|2012 Nighttown - Cleveland - OH
02|14|2012 Blue Whale - Los Angeles - CA
02|15|2012 Compound Grill - Phoenix - AZ
02|16|2012 The Outpost - Albuquerque - NM
02|17|2012 Alvas Showroom - San Pedro - CA
02|18|2012 Old Town School of Folk - Chicago - IL

More Leni Stern:
Listen/buy CD

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