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Lobi Traore | Bwati Kono

Album review by John Powell

Lobi Traore | Bwati Kono

Lobi Traore died at 49, leaving behind an almost-finished ninth album. A Malian blues/ rock guitarist, Lobi weaved together these flavors with Bambara music, the classic sort of West African rhythms many people might be familiar with. What he left in his wake was Bwati Kono, a fuzz-filled album that would make any old-school electric blues lover learn a bit of Malian music, and vice versa, for World music fans to appreciate old school blues.

The content isn’t bluesy, however. Lobi was famously a folkloric lyricist, and his voice throughout Bwati Kono isn’t bluesy, but rather lighter in the mix than his guitar, a second-layer of music, for instance on “Banan Ni”, when he sings the same line his guitar plays. He sings with a matter-of-fact tone that sits well beside the music.

With “Makono” I’m immediately reminded of Toubab Krewe, my first brush with Malian music, though they be Asheville-based. But for anyone that enjoys a cooking groove that makes you shake your hips, this opener is built on a funky blues riff and balanced out by balafon, played by Moribo Kouyate. See, the interesting aspect of Lobi’s tunes is the backing band, in this case Bako Diarra on rhythm guitar, Lamine Soumano on bass, Sekous Diarra on drum kit, and Adama Sissoko on djembe. While they hold together a voracious West African bounce, Lobi lets his guitar stand out like Lancelot in front of the other knights, just a bit shinier.

“Jama” offers dual riffs from lead and rhythm guitars, with click-clacking percussion. Lobi sings out on this one, his guitar like a sparking fuse, here and there busting out before restraining itself again. At one point he stops singing and starts ranting into the mic, his guitar getting heavier.

One similarity between Bambara and blues is that they never feel the need to build musically. They find a groove and even if an instrument solos it’s on the same level as the rest of the band. This is clear on “Jama” and the other tracks, which never dull because the riffs are made to dip up and down continuously, nabbing your attention.

On that note, “Maya Gasi Ka Bon” is a nine and a half minute musical jam on a bed of polyrhythmic percussion that sounds like rain pattering on a tin roof. Lobi sings low, with a nice melody. The liner notes of the CD say of this song, “Mutual help and respect must exist between people so we can live harmoniously.” I appreciate these notes because, not being in English, I wonder what Lobi’s singing about, and each song is described in the booklet.

But we haven’t seen anything yet. The closer, “Ya Time”, is a slow, tempered track about someone who’s lost their mother and father. It walks like heat over the desert, creeping and minor-key with a classic blues drum beat. For this last song, Lobi plays his heart out. He really is a great guitarist, both emotive and precise, but not reliant on effects pedals or showy clichés. Yes, he turns up his fuzz box, but that’s it. The rest is him, which is a nice send off to this musician that helped bridge worlds and truly knew the meaning of rock n’ roll.

Bottom line: A highly recommended album for the music adventurer, and for lovers of afrobeat, blues, and that classic rock guitar sound.


 

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