Putumayo African Blues 90This highly enjoyable African blues-lite dives horizontally into the genre and should please fans of both blues and world music.

Label: Putumayo
Time: 10 tracks / 43 Minutes

Dedicated visitors to this site may remember how highly this journalist regards Jayme Stone’s Africa to Appalachia, where Stone teamed up with Mansa Sissoko to present two sides of the banjo: the American instrument and its African cousin the kora (a blend of banjo and lute with a large cello-like shape). Similarly, those who have followed up our recommendations for much of the music of Mali – in particular its desert blues – will have discovered a rich vein of groove-riding beauty.

Although it spreads its ears to catch a wider range of styles and displays more of the music’s American grandchild, Putumayo Presents African Blues shares similar roots to Stone’s album. The Putumayo brand began with Mali to Memphis, which featured the connection between the bluesy music of West Africa and the Mississippi Delta. It led to a series that included Mississippi Blues, American Blues and Blues around the World.

African Blues is the logical next step in the series and it rightly spends a decent amount of time in Mali, as some band and track titles testify. Mali Latino’s “Ni Koh Bedy” is light, set against an easy Booker-T. style organ and catching a very western rhythm. One of the most instantly addictive tracks is simply called “Mali.” Kalaban Coura’s kora and guitar interweave, ad-libbing over the top of a light acoustic groove with a brushed percussion that adds up to a lazy, summery shuffle that needs no words.

A similar combination is more international, featuring Diabel Cissokho on kora and the British producer/guitarist Ramon Goose. The latter has played guitar in Eric Bibb’s band and this whole collection has the same lightness as Bibb’s blues.

Amar Sundy’s “Camel Shuffle” spreads itself between cultures. Its organ licks, horn stabs and western blues guitar lines sit with African percussion and wind.

Nigerian-born Koudede has spent a lot of time in the desert with the Tuareg and his sound has picked up similar rhythms to Tinariwen and similar lyrical themes – camels, home life, unjust wars and virtues such as patience.

Tinariwen themselves feature along with Keb Mo as part of the Playing for Change project, which waters down their power somewhat. Another big name is Taj Mahal, who offers his guitar and sings with the Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar on “Dhow Country,” a long, gorgeously dreamy and understated piece of slow blues.

Despite his mild, seasoned growl, nothing here ever gets quite as gritty as, say, Vieux Farke Toure’s work, but that could be to its advantage, because the whole disc keeps a smooth feel in which all the tracks function together to create an integral whole. It succeeds as mellow music that is as vibrant, colourful and simple as the cover art suggests. The only track that would not be particularly missed is Muntu Valdo’s “Timba.”

Whether it’s blues or world music doesn’t matter: it’s highly enjoyable and really works. Fans of both genres are unlikely to be disappointed.


Derek Walker