Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Jama Ko [Out Here, 2013]
I swear I thought the third album by Youssou N'Dour's ngoni man of choice might be the best ever to come out of Mali even before I got to the notes. There I learned that recording began on the day Kouyate's friend the president was overthrown by the military, and that two songs celebrate anti-Islamist heroes of 19th-century Mali--a martyr whose refusal to leave his animist faith inspired his Muslim protector to fight to his own death for it and a soldier who drank beer in the sanctimonious face of the Muslim cheikh who'd persuaded him to fight for a faith he refused to obey to the letter. From the title party anthem on out, the mood and message are inclusive not just because sharia law proscribes music altogether but because Timbuktu anti-clericalist Khaira Arby gets a track, because the Taj Mahal cameo is the most irreverent Malian blues ever recorded, because every song is fired by Kouyate's political and philosophical passion. Two melodies reach back centuries. Strong-voiced frontwoman Amy Sacko delivers the word. And although the ngoni is a mere lute, Kouyate gets more noises you want to hear out of his strings than any two jam-band hotshots you can name. A