N'faly Kouyate & Dunyakan,
Kora Grooves from West Africa
(ARC, 2004)

A griot master is a keeper of stories. Every group has its storytellers, each with a name and style unique to its culture. Sometimes these storytellers live within a small family group, while others live within a larger group, such as a nation. In our culture, the storytellers are people such as Garrison Keillor or Maya Angelou, or perhaps your favorite uncle. Suffice it to say that stories are endemic to human life, and as such are enjoyed, repeated and certainly welcome anywhere groups gather.

On Kora Grooves from West Africa, the singer as storyteller lives and breathes ancient times and tales and makes each piece rich, vibrant and exciting. Highlighting this ensemble of world music from West Africa is N'Faly Kouyate and his ensemble, Dunyakan, with songs from Guinea, Mali, Gambia, Senegal and Burkina Faso, among others.

Dunyakan, the ensemble group that accompanies N'Faly, means "The Voice of the World," and it is easy to understand the reason for its name. Starting with "Va Chanter," a joyful introduction sung as a canon on which his group joyfully interweaves its own textual spin into the song. Using instruments such as the traditional kora, djembe and balafon and modern instruments such as double bass, drums, guitars, violin and flute, the album presents a polyglot of music that sings to the human heart.

The griot inspires, invites, enables, laughs and shares common themes for all of us to experience, despite our different backgrounds and beliefs. That he (or she) transcends differences through a CD such as this one is remarkable. N'Faly Kouyate -- a native of Conakry, the Guinean capital -- and his ensemble Dunyakan are able to reach out through traditional music and such songs as "N'Na," which is dedicated to his mother. The griot within explains his song through its lyrics: "My dear Mother, it is God who gave me to you," in that his mother's infertility led to much grief and criticism from the tribe for her illness, as it was perceived. When N'Faly was born, the illness his mama allegedly had became the man he is today.

The rich texture of Kora Grooves from West Africa weaves a story of its own due to stories told long ago, and still resonant to all of us in a world gone mad.

review by
Ann Flynt

25 October 2008

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