Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Hama Sankare

  • Ballébé [Clermont Music, 2018] A-
  • Niafunké [Clermont Music, 2019] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Ballébé [Clermont Music, 2018]
Sankare is a calabash specialist in his fifties who's added crucial percussion to many Malian records without ever taking the lead. Given his deep, precise baritone and conceptual reach, this was probably a loss, although you could also say he waited until he was ready, because his debut collection never falters. The steel guitars of folk-scene veteran Cindy Cashdollar add alien colors that fit right in, but the sure shot is the lead "Middo Wara," remixed to highlight loops and such by electronic wizard David Harrow and then reremixed in a slightly longer, even more striking all-instrumental mix toward the album's end. Despite the package's brief English-language summaries, I do find myself wondering what this manifestly thoughtful, resonantly tender singer is telling Bambara speakers--he sings with such distinction that I'd like a chance to feel the full force of his message. But this is the kind of African record so musically deft that such niceties end up not mattering much. A-

Niafunké [Clermont Music, 2019]
Exclusively Malian in both production and personnel, Sankare's second album bears his subtle stamp without matching the bite or power of his debut. In both sound and trot all the songs seem strictly moralistic and hortatory. True, "Remobe" ("Development starts with agriculture") is more upbeat with a livelier solo than the solemn "Tiega Mali" ("Today Mali suffers--killings, banditry--we are tearing each other apart"). But though I can imagine playing "Tiega Mali" if something like the Bamako Radisson Blu attack happened again, as I hope against hope it never does, the likes of "Remobe," fine and even fun though they are, has less apparent use value at this distance. B+