Habib Koite & Bamada,
Foly! Live Around the World
(World Village, 2003)

It is somewhat baffling that a poor African country like Mali can boast such a seemingly inexhaustible supply of musical talent, including Salif Keita, the Traore clan, Touareg formations like Tinariwen, and Habib Koite, who was proclaimed best West African artist in 2002.

Located in the Sahel region, Mali's musical tradition combines Moorish elements of the Sahara desert with the tunes of tropical sub-Saharan Africa. Music is the country's most important cultural expression, and the singing chroniclers of its epic past even constitute a separate social caste, called griots. Habib Koite is the proud descendent of a noble line of these indigenous bards. A musical prodigy, the would-be engineer eventually opted for the National Institute of the Arts, where he was immediately employed as a guitar teacher after graduating at the top of his class in 1982. He is now recognized as one of the country's greatest guitarists.

A double CD, Foly! documents Koite's 2001-02 tour, which took him and his band, Bamada, through Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy. Since the release of their debut album, Muso Ko in 1995, Koite and Bamada have been a popular feature on the European music festival circuit. Their second album, Ma Ya, secured Koite a top spot in the world music pantheon. Between 1995 and 2002, Bamada played an impressive 560 shows worldwide, not to mention the countless times they took the stage in their native Mali.

Produced by Koite's Belgian manager Michel de Bock, Foly! features over two-and-a-half hours of live recordings and provides a cross-section of Koite's musical versatility. The first CD contains the title songs from Koite's two studio albums, as well as the Arab-influenced "Fatma." It closes with the subdued-sounding "Wari." The feast continues on the second part of the album, which contains a number of lengthy tracks like "Komine," "Nimato" and "Kunfeta," swinging compositions that give Koite ample opportunity to show off his virtuosity as a guitarist. It also includes "Cigarette Abana," the number that turned West Africa on its head.

Drawing on almost 10 years of composing and performing, Foly! provides an excellent overview of this Malian superstar.

- Rambles
written by Carool Kersten
published 4 December 2004

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