Makane Kouyate – Mali In New York
Not everyone is afforded the opportunity to travel to Africa, but every so often, Africa decides to come to us. Such is the case with Makane Kouyate’s beyond-awesome debut album Mali In New York. The band is an eight-piece outfit formed around lead singer/writer/djimbe player Makane Kouyate. Piano, guitars, balophone, drums, bass, percussion and saxophone make up for the rest of the wealth of sounds represented on this album.
Those familiar with the music scene of West Africa already know the treasure trove that abounds in the area. Typically the style is rhythmic and quite often resembles the sounds you’ll hear in the various Caribbean islands (really the other way around, though). Makane’s band has a nice range of influences that seamlessly blend his West African rhythmic traditions with reggae, rock, and jazz.
It opens up with “Aralo”, which is a super-fun track that has magical powers to blast your blues away. The song instantly put a smile on my face and got me dancing. Marco Chelo and Balla Kouyate bless us with saxophone and balophone solos, respectively. The melody on the following track “Diaye” is very similar, only this time–about three minutes in–we get a nice surprise electric guitar solo by Keith Gamble.
Any sucker-for-jazz will find lots of ground to immerse themselves in this record. But for me, the sax is what really makes it shine. All the sounds work and gel together for an overall cohesive end-product; and everyone’s solos really spice up each song. To give you an idea of the band’s different influences at play, “Ndale Ndale” and “Tunga” both have a slow and steady reggae rhythm, while “Vanessa” has a more salsa feel with its Cuban jazz bass and rhythm line and plenty of percussion to match.
Any connoisseur of jazz and/or various world music genres will undoubtedly be pleased to add this to their collection. And to the novice I say: sit back, relax, and enjoy the tunes of Makane Kouyate. Maybe you won’t break forth in dance as soon as you hear “Aralo” (like I did), but I dare you not to smile. Mali In New York is a homerun for me.