Mali To Memphis: An African-American Odyssey
PopMatters Editor & Publisher
Putumayo is something of an odd bird in the record industry. Equal parts of exceedingly good taste and a tendency towards documented ethnomusicology have produced an array of enlightening albums that seek to reveal obscure talents and draw together the world’s musics in a compelling narrative. Two of Putumayo’s latest efforts tackle a couple of popular music forms in surprising and illuminating ways.
Celtic music is eminently bankable on the world music market to be sure, but unlike Dublin to Dakar, few collections have documented the widespread roots and incarnations of the music. Regaling us with his legendary Celtic fusion, Alan Stivell is joined by Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour on optimistic anthem “A United Earth I.” Celtic music if further transformed on “One Glimpse of You,” a thoroughly unexpected, but effective, blend of Brigid Boden’s lilting Celtic melodies with reggae grooves and the toasting of Mikie Brooks. The Celtic music of France and Spain is well known, but Italy? Yes, indeed, Italy’s Modena City Ramblers weigh in with “Canzone Dalla Fine Del Mondo.” That’s not as odd as it sounds—the ancient Celtic world reached into Northern Italy, apparently leaving beyond a still-existent cultural legacy.
Mali to Memphis traces a different path—the route from West African music to the Blues. The connections between the two could not be more obvious when you hear songs like “Mon Amour, Ma Cherie” by Amadou and Mariam from Mali, with its classic call-and-response patterns that are echoed in the interplay between vocals and guitar in blues.