A well-played, rather safe set
Sidi Toure is a guitar player and singer from Mali, whose 2011 debut album Sahel Folk, was praised by this reviewer on PopMatters last year. Follow-up album Koima is pleasant enough but fails to make a strong impression even after repeated listenings. Songs are built around Toure’s nimble acoustic guitar fingerpicking and reedy voice, often accompanied by a female harmony vocal. That’s about it for orchestration and arrangement (there’s a bit of hand percussion and ngori, a kind of scratchy fiddle), and while this minimalist approach places the spotlight squarely on Toure’s singing and playing, it also lends a certain monochromatic sameness of sound to the songs.
Album opener “Ni See Ay Ga Done (It Is to You that I Sing)” sets the tone, with its lively melody and jaunty tempo; it’s a pleasant enough tune on its own but, as mentioned, one which shares many similarities with the material that follows. Toure efficiently reels off a string of tunes that follow the same basic pattern—“Maiemouna”, “Aiey Faadji (I Am Nostalgic)”, “Woy Tiladio (Beautiful Woman, Goddess of Water)”. It should be noted that, with none of the lyrics in English, the songs remain opaque to this reviewer in terms of theme or subject matter. Any variation in these can only be gleaned through the translated titles.
In any case, the news is far from entirely bad. “Ishi Tanmaha (They No Longer Hope)” is a bit of an epic that pops up halfway through the record and heralds a subtle shift to stronger, more compelling tunes. Although the basic elements remain the same, the song clocks in at nearly eight minutes and incorporates multiple sections, plus a tempo shift in the second half that lends it a weight that is lacking in many of the earlier songs. This is followed by the rousing, uptempo “A Chacun Sa Chance (To Each His Own Luck)” which provides a bit of rhythmic spark to enliven the proceedings.
After this, things settle once more into a well-worn groove that it either comfortable or predictable, depending on your point of view. At his best, as on the mesmerizing “Kalaa ay Makoiey (I Must Go)”, Toure channels some of the hypnotic lope of Baaba Maal and mansour Seck’s Djam Leelii—and that’s a massive compliment.
Strangely enough, tunes on the back half of the record are stronger than those up front, as if partway through, Toure realized he needed to up the stakes a bit. The album ends strongly, with the bluesy “Tondi Karaa (The White Stone)” and the elegaic “Euzo” both using the expected sonic elements, but recombining them in ways that are considerably more compelling than much of what was previously offered.
For casual fans of contemporary African or Malian folk music, this might well be a record worth hearing, especially for its second half. Toure is indisputably a fine guitar player, and he can establish a groove and carry a tune as well as anyone. The album, though, is rather monotonous in its approach, and given the rich variety of music coming out of the African continent and west Africa in particular, this offering strikes one as rather tame.
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// Notes from the Road
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