Jah Youssouf and Bintou Coulibaly: Sababou

Forget Afro-funk -- there are quieter pleasures to be found here.

Jah Youssouf and Bintou Coulibaly


Label: Tall Corn Music
US Release Date: 2011-11-01
UK Release Date: 2011-11-01

Jah Youssouf is a Malian singer and calabash player whose wife, Ivory Coast-born Bintou Coulibaly, is an accomplished singer-percussionist in her own right. Together, the two have recorded an all-acoustic album of original songs that incorporate elements of folk music that also contain echoes of musical traditions from beyond West Africa’s shores. This is a far cry from the thumping Afro-pop of Fela Kuti, or even the highly produced music of Salif Keita or the sultry desert blues of Tinariwen. Youssouf and Bintou dispense with all that electric intensity but still create a mood that is, at times, compelling.

Opening track "Atoi" serves as something of a statement of purpose. The downtempo tune is centered on Youssouf's unvarnished vocals and a complex but rhythmic texture from the calabash. This is meditative, inward-looking African music of a sort that rarely reaches Western ears. Follow-up tune "Faco" expands the sonic pallette to include Bintou's raw but affecting vocals and a larger contribution from her percussion repertoire. When the two voices sing together, the effect is sweetly moving. Much of the album follows this template: There are slow tunes, like the spare, powerfully rendered "Yalayala", and there are uptempo songs too, although "uptempo" should not be interpreted to mean particularly loud or raucous. "Kahlan" ups the pace a bit but remains an acoustic workout, with Bintou's lilting voice trilling above an upbeat counterpoint played by Youssouf. Percussion here consists of Bintou's snapping fingers.

At 12 tracks, there is an abundance of music on Sababou, but with most songs clocking in at the two-to-four-minute range, there's an absence of the kind of long jams that characterize so much African music. (Album closer "Folie" is the sole exception.) Maybe it's unfair to expect this of a couple of musicians working with limited instrumentation. Unfair or not, though, it's noticeable, as is the hurried, unfinished quality to some tunes, which at times end abruptly, giving the impression that the song was cut off midway through.

A certain sonic monotony is also present in these songs. By the time you reach the back half of the record, you've been exposed to the full range of sounds on display. In the absence of marked shifts in tempo, instrumentation, song structure, or vocal delivery, many of the later tracks bleed together into an indistinguishible whole. This is not necessarily a disaster, though it may sound like one. As an album, Sababou creates a mood and maintains it, and listeners who find themselves drawn in are likely to appreciate the consistency. (That said, "Folkon" is a rousing late-album highlight.) Sababou was recorded live at the musicians' home, some 30 miles from Mali's capital of Bamako, and the recording retains a warm, organic feel. The sound quality is excellent, with an immediacy and intimacy borne out of comfortable surroundings and shared purpose.

Those aficianados of "world music" who are looking for rousing studio arrangements and funk-rock influences should seek their booty-shaking fix elsewhere, but anyone curious about what Malian acoustic folks music sounds like these days will probably find Sababou a rewarding album to spend time with.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.