On new album 2017, Afropop artist Leila Gobi is a one-woman sugar rush.
There's a refreshing straightforwardness to Leila Gobi's music on new album 2017. Opening track "An Nia" begins with the quick, high-pitched guitar patterns that have become so integral to exported Malian pop, forming melodic loops that Gobi's nasal voice shoots through like a joyful arrow. The whole album follows suit, with thin electronics framing Gobi and her backup singers in repetitive dance tracks that are often minimal in texture but constantly pumping up the volume and energy.
Release Date: 6 Oct 2017
Stripped-down instrumental accompaniment allows Gobi to shine as the center of each song; she rarely shares the spotlight she has worked hard to earn as a young woman growing up far from the thriving music scene in urban Bamako. And there's no reason she should. Her voice soars, staying largely in a steady range that keeps it flowing with electric ease. She is a crowd-pleasing, one-woman sugar rush, making the album 2017 a far friendlier entity than the year it's named for.
For most of her career, Gobi has done backup singing - crucial work, but certainly not a role that has allowed her to take control of her own artistic vision. This is evident on her solo album: her work is fresh, the result of having plenty of time to develop her vision while gaining experience working with other artists. At the same time, there are moments when her catchy, repeating verses go on so long that they sound like they're still a bed of sound for a showstopping solo moment that never comes. These tracks are the exception, though, and far more often than not, Gobi is only too happy to embrace her time as the lead, calling out loud and long over the backing riffs of single "Tibo Gadeina" and gloriously melismatic over the lusciously low, bass-heavy synths of "Eh Khanzam", a song that celebrates the end of the rainy season.
Gobi is also gracious in letting the musicians who support her shine across the album. Upbeat "Deidi Dadada" sees guitarist Khalil M. Touré exercise his sharp, nimble skills on a brief but exciting solo between lyrical stanzas, enhanced further by warm synth runs, and the more leisurely pace of "Akan Nana" gives Touré even more space to experiment with and beautify. Abdourhamane Salaha's percussion throughout the album is strong and breezy, while bassist Amadou Dembélé stays steady.
2017's many virtues help to compensate for its main flaw: the low production values resulting from the minimal resources available to Gobi and many other Malian recording artists. 2017 lacks a polished standout hit, but the raw talent that takes its place is nothing to brush aside, and each song lands, solid and satisfying, if not particularly more memorable than any other cut on the album.
In the end, what makes Leila Gobi shine is not heavy effects or ingenious complexities, but her own sunny sound. Gobi has a clear, sharp-edged voice that can cut through just about anything to get her where she needs to be in order to make the music she wants to make. 2017 is not a perfect gem, but it is a substantial one, and leaves no doubt that Leila Gobi has energy and staying power.