Oumar Konaté loves making music.
I have no firsthand confirmation of this, but on every note of new album I Love You Inna, Konaté radiates passion for his craft. He buoys his considerable technical guitar skills with sheer emotion, digging in to commit to textual messages and structural complexities on every track. By the end of the album, he leaves no doubt in his listeners’ minds that Oumar Konaté loves making music.
From the major Malian city of Gao, Konaté follows in the footsteps of a veritable pantheon of musicians who have put the country’s blues-rock scene on the metaphorical map for decades now. Most of the waves Konaté has made have been within West Africa; he regularly plays at clubs and concert halls in Bamako. But the sounds he makes on I Love You Inna show that he has the potential to make a global impact, and one all his own.
Even on paper, Konaté’s credentials are stellar. He started bandleading at the tender age of six and has collaborated with local greats like Vieux Farka Touré, Sidi Touré, and the late Khaira Arby. Now, he draws his own crowds, shredding and howling with aplomb.
That’s not how he starts on I Love You Inna, though. Opening track “Houndia” is a soulful ode to the beautiful women of Gao, a lovely opening with earthy drums and lilting guitars backing Konaté’s rich voice. More bombastic is “Oumar Bakoi”, where Konaté announces his presence with a heavy wah pedal and guttural belting. Tropical synths open the infectious title track and lend it a hint of dancehall. In sharp contrast comes “Badje Bisindje”, a slower and more dramatically told tale of a man who has to sacrifice his favorite cow for his daughter’s wedding feast. It goes from repetitive blues riffs into an intricate jazz piano section – a touch that lightens the mood and makes it clear that Konaté knows how to have fun without sacrificing technique.
“Almounakaf” opens with rounded reggae beats and kora-like guitar lines; here, Konaté roars, railing against violence and destruction on a backdrop of heartfelt acoustic and electric sounds. “Mariama” is a sweeter track, reassuring a young woman of her safety with her new husband. Hair-raising “Koima Djine” features some of Konaté’s most intense guitar work as the frontman begs for an end to the drought in the village of Koima.
He keeps the reverb-heavy on “Ni Tchilla Sibara”, but driving percussion on “Zankai Hora” makes it a much easier dance track. “Wa Toto” ends with a message of hope as Konaté, his voice clear and purposeful, declares it time to rebuild Mali – and does so with inspiring melody. The song’s conclusion features a fantastic drum kit solo, and it’s easy to imagine the crowd breaking into cheers with the final beats.
So many artists have broken out of West Africa’s national music scene to the global market that it sets the bar high for new practitioners of genres like Malian blues-rock. In many ways, Oumar Konaté echoes generations of Ali Farka Touré followers, as do his numerous contemporaries. On I Love You Inna, though, he shows what makes him worth following. The unique colors in his personal soundscape have brought him a sizeable following in Mali and could easily bring him similar clout across the globe. Konaté’s charisma, chops, and love for the groove are gloriously in his listeners’ respective faces with this latest album, positioning him as one of the brightest stars in a glittering constellation of contemporary Malian blues rockers.