West African’s Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band Get Funky on ‘Siri Ba Kele’

Complex jams bring a modern twist to classic West African styles on Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band's solid sophomore release, Siri Ba Kele.

Siri Ba Kele
Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band
Sublime Frequencies
2 November 2018

Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band exploded onto the international stage with 2015 debut Juguya, a fiery Afrobeat release that introduced the non-Burkinabé world to the distinctive growl of Baba Commandant – né Mamadou Sanou – and the tight grooves of his ensemble. On sophomore release Siri Ba Kele, that growl is back, and so is the musicianship, but the sounds here are very different. The band has stripped away much of the brass and heavy fuzz in favor of cooler aesthetics with just as intense of an impact.

In addition to singing, Sanou plays the stringed n’goni, and leads a band made up of Issouf Diabate on guitar, Massibo Taragna on bass, Mohamed Sana on drums, and Sami Kimpe on balafon. Each of the tracks is a dynamic mix of strings, percussion, and voice that lends a fresh perspective to West African mandingue popular music traditions of the 1970s. “Logo Fo Djelba” opens the album with clear, hand-pounded beats soon joined by Sanou’s rallying calls, more percussion, and a string-based melody. Diabate’s nimble guitar work stuns, light riffs that seem impossibly clean for the speed and complexity of them.

Driven by strings, mid-tempo “Siraba Kele” is a perfect example of the group’s unique, polyrhythmic synchrony. Each instrument rolls along a slightly different path, causing them to come together in different ways at different points in the song. Diabate again stands out as having a particular technique and feeling to his playing, weaving in and out of the ostinati around him with psychedelic spirit. For as much repetition as there is, the organic variations make it a captivating and unpredictable piece, one of the album’s top highlights.

While many of Juguya‘s tracks came in a manageable size for the casual listener, the jams on Siri Ba Kele range from six to nine-and-a-half minutes, the longest an expansion on “Siguisso”, a track that, in its original form on Juguya, clocked in at less than four gentle minutes. The version on Siri Ba Kele pours forward in a rush of percussion and strings, held down by the woodsy timbre of the balafon. On “Keleya”, the band takes a simplified approach to Moussa Doumbia’s 1970s funk release that makes it fit perfectly on this album while honoring the bold color of the original with Diabate’s wavy playing style. The album ends on “Mantcha Mantcha”, whose bombastic opening drums lead into warm lines of strings and voice.

Siri Ba Kele is a solid sophomore release for Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band, doing an admirable job in following up the stellar Juguya. Its subtleties and track lengths make it less of a party album and more of a cerebral experience – or an above-average background soundtrack. The band’s skills, though, are undeniable, and the music high-quality. Siri Ba Kele may not be the most accessible of the band’s oeuvre, but it is well worth the work to understand.

RATING 7 / 10

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