Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté, Tony Allen, and Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., April 23, 2010
Once disco took R&B electronic, soul music never looked back. Except in West Africa, where the concept of "back" begins. That circle remains unbroken in the West's assimilation of blues, jazz, and James Brown. Where the previous teaming of Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté yielded 2005's Grammy-garnering In the Heart of the Moon, follow-up Ali and Toumani (World Circuit/Nonesuch) – recorded that same year in London with late Cuban master Orlando "Cachaito" López on bass – tamps down its predecessor's trickling stream into a serene pond. Diabaté's kora, a 21-string harp-lute, twangs like a National mandolin locked in ancient dialogue with the needling sting of Malian guitarist Touré, who succumbed to cancer in 2006. Transcendental chant "Sabu Yerkoy," which translates as "Thanks to God," repeats a mantra you'd swear was "boogie," while crystal cascades "Sina Mory" and "56," both from Guinea's golden music age of the 1950s, preserve the initial influences of a young Touré, aided here by able successor/son Vieux Farka Touré. Like a canal into which has toppled a toaster factory, the beat to Fela Kuti's Afrobeat juggernaut, 69-year-old Nigerian drum deity Tony Allen, bows on Nonesuch at the opposite end of the spectrum, gunning Secret Agent. Witnesses of the Good, the Bad & the Queen at South by Southwest three years ago will attest to the treelike grandeur of Allen, black as oil and just as slick – essential gear-shifting shape-bender. From the opening title cut to the wah-wah-christened moving sidewalks of follow-up "Ijo," Allen's fivepiece horns and Secret Agent synthesizers light the disc's wiry funk, sung in Orobo, Yoruban, and broken English and holding your ear hostage despite the bandleader's chant of "too many prisoners" on coffee-bean grinding closer "Elewon Po." Going back to New Orleans for Jazz Fest, West African troupe Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars pitched a stand along the banks of the Colorado here this past weekend. As outspoken as Allen ("Global Threat"), the Africans' Rise & Shine (Cumbancha) stands heads and dreads above 2006 Anti- debut Living Like a Refugee. Produced by Los Lobos horn Steve Berlin partly in the Crescent City, its Bonerama-guested honk on "Living Stone" sounds like a Jamaican sound system standard straight off the flatbed. "Dununya," sung in Mandingo, shakes Christmas percussion over what could pass for a Latin American gospel chant; "Tamagbondorsu" avalanches the entirety of Paul Simon's Graceland into a single track. The lilting melody, vocal, and acoustic shuffle of disc hit "Bend Down the Corner" glows like the red hair on Lee Scratch Perry's chinny chin chin. Africa unite.