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Sibiri Samaké | Dambe Foli

album review by Olaya Barr

Sibiri Samaké | Dambe Foli

Sibiri Samaké's second album, Dambe Foli, produced by the Kanaga System Krush record label, introduces to fans of world music the heart of West African Bamana hunter's music. They are songs that flirt with nature and the elements of earth.

The hunters' society, or "the Donsoton", maintain an indigenous culture that has underpinned Malian society and dates back to the 7th century, pre-Islam, pre-Christianity and colonization. Even if you’ve had exposure to a wide variety of music genres, you’re unlikely to have heard something quite like this; few contemporary musicians offer such an accurate and natural projection of human life pulsing with natural elements. But as unusual and unconventional as this Mali music initially sounds, recognizable rhythms and progressions from modern day blues, rock, and Latin cumbias reverberate.

The reason this album evokes such natural imagery and such a primal and organic feel is due to the instruments. When the bass-sounding string instruments -the traditional donso (hunter) harp and donso n'goni- are plucked, a deep and hollow twittering follows that seems to reflect the wood and earth it came from. The quickly moving percussion rhythms -Ibrahima Diakite on the karinya (iron-metal scraper) and Kadiatou Samaké on the kusubu (shaker)– defy the conventions of Western music by progressing in a mounting and circular direction. Each instrument serves as a specific hand-molded character in the performance: some dominate and taking initiative, others teasing, tickling, playing follow the leader.

But as the instruments deviate and alternate in speed, the voice of Samaké keeps us to pace. The singing in this album is striking and the voice is a transformative shape-shifter, just adopting different personalities. The four tracks all rely on a call-and-response type organization; even for those who are restricted in understanding the language, one can still admire the diverse use of voice as a driving force in the music. In the first track, "Yaala kono," the moaning and chanting voice often sounds onomatopoeic, in the second track "Fakoli," the voice sounds more like fluttering insect wings. The voice takes initiative as an instrument in itself, parallel to the woods, beads, and stones that impregnate the songs with melody; sometimes the utterances serve as nasal or guttural notes, other times they are more like bellows or breathy flickers.

In "Fakoli," there are cumbia rhythms reminiscent of the Cuban group Buena Vista Social Club, deep string instruments that reminded me of the indie Black Keys' rock guitar, and quickly-released syllables paired with call-backs that mirrored the organization of a lot of old school rap tunes. This was the most impressive of the four songs because of this variety; Samaké's voice sometimes sounding like Arabic poetry, other times like a humming sitar.

The last track, "Su-djo," 28-minutes in length, parallels the rhythm of life itself. It takes advantage of the length to establish loops and revisit episodes, murmur negations as well as affirmations, and mimic a fluctuating and corporal heartbeat. The way this song, as well as the Bamana hunting music in general, parallels the human train of thought and human impulses, is fascinating, the juxtapositions and rhythm always in flux; at once urgent with beaded shakes and rustled agitation, and then slow and peaceful as if at last safe in a mountain valley.

Although Samaké's work is therapeutic to listen to and the healing aspect of Bamana hunting music is successful, the apparent repetition and length of tracks cannot keep the attention of all listeners. Also, unless you speak Bambana, the religious and spiritual reality of this genre is reduced to the mere musicality, not the lyrics. Because hunting music is such a novelty and the customs and traditions so abstract to most of the Western audience, any emotional connection isn’t as strong as it likely should be.

That being said, we should celebrate the fact that we live in a world where music from the indigenous hunger's society in Mali can be made accessible to all. Let's be honest: one doesn't need a cultural connection to relate to the fear, anxiety, jubilation, suspense, and ecstasy that brim in Dambe Foli.

Bottom line: Enter a world, not just an album, of meaning and spirituality, unlike anything produced on this side of the pond.


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