SIMPHIWE DANA’S ALBUM – Bamako

Bamako, is a creative evolution milestone of incredible range. It has, as is to be expected with rooted and centered artists, a Dana- esque familiarity. The evolution is, in the main, new orchestration in terms of the interplay between compositions and vocals, such that musical time is stretched, compressed, slowed, and steadied – with the overarching emotive and cerebral response to the music demanding astute listening. The compositions are diverse: playful, intense, atmospheric, some celebratory with a tinge of lyrical melancholy. 

At a creative plane, Bamako is a breath-taking fusion of musical styles and traditions; with distinct overtures to a multiplicity of places: traditional Malian music with its trance inducing vocal chants and blues inspired guitar work in Ali Farka Toure signature, reminiscent of iconic recordings such as Talking Timbuktu or In The Heart of the Moon¸ or Salif Keita’s spiritually uplifting and sacred mastery of voice and emotion. It, surprisingly and tastefully, appropriates and reclaims the reggae and dancehall grooves of the Caribbean in Gwegwezela and You Keep Calling, to Cuban come Spanish guitar tonality resultant from a cross pollination of West African and Cuban music in the Afro Cubism Buena Vista Social Club style, so ably and memorably maintained by the likes of Cesaria Evora.  

Love is, with all its charms and afflictions, thematically at the core of Bamako in terms of lyrical content, criss-crossing songs such as Bye Bye, Kumnyama, Usikhonsile, and One. Like Dana’s preceding work, Kitchen Girl tackles the complexities of history, touching on South Africa’s history and present of kitchen ‘girls’ and garden ‘boys’- a history of colonial and apartheid exploitation and dispossession. Of compassionate yearning is a partial remix of Salif Keita’s Africa, a duet that becomes Ndimonele, sentiments of which are a call to African unity and solidarity.  

Bamako is in many ways a listener´s album; it commands immersive listening that rewards with discreet but intense sensual pleasures. It is also, a musicologist and composer’s recording in how it presents a beautiful myriad and tapestry of cross cultural references and sanguine passions. It brews feeling, suggests a distant yet tangible nostalgia, beauty in a pressure cylinder. This is music that breaks and mends your heart with tactile sensuality, which sets the imagination alight, music made for connoisseurs, for varied moments and social rituals: intimate friendships and celebrations, scorching love affairs, lonesome evenings on elevated balconies overlooking crimson horizons. The sheer force embedded in the music is destined to make this album an immediate and timeless classic, for the flirtatious charm of its string of sonic masterpieces. A lot of time, love of craft, soul meditation have been invested in the conceptualization of this record: echoes, the dynamism and multiple registers of vocals, the contrast between space and emotive but strangely liberating claustrophobia, the Xhosa and Bambara vocal fusion on One, the solid spine of bass and adventurous intensity of blues rock guitar wizardry that is woven into some of the songs. 

The ultimate authority and power of this music is how it escapes and resists categorization – for its palette is wide yet focused, detonating whole fragments of jazz, blues, rock, traditional African sounds, reggae and dancehall, soul, Ghanaian and Nigerian high life music, even enchanting calypso accents.  It is impossible for the ear to filter the album in its entirety in one sitting, so this is one of those projects that come once in a lifetime, whose songs are whole worlds on their own, that penetrate the deepest membranes of consciousness and feeling. Bamako is fully deserving of the accolade of world music, not only as a genre, but because a passionate and assured stream of humanity runs through its heartbeat, its gaze, the comfort of its embrace that makes music a dependable ally in the rigors and puzzles of life and living. 

Thanks so much for reading, hope to see you again :)

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