Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2015-11-27


Terakaft: Alone (Ténéré) (Out Here, 2015) Terakaft are a livelier Tinariwen spinoff/breakaway featuring grooveful guitarist Diara and two spry nephews. Like all Tuareg musicians, they were exiled by the Islamist takeover of northern Mali, when, as several cryptic translations suggest, so many friends became enemies. Which may explain why this album doesn't manage quite the lift of 2011's Aratan N Azawad even with production input from Afropop good guy Justin Adams. Under the circumstances, lift's a lot to ask. But it is what they broke away for. B+

Tinariwen: Live in Paris (Anti-, 2015) Less than a year ago at the Bouffes du Nord, an elegantly refurbished old venue barely two miles from the bohemian Bataclan, the world's most renowned Malian musicians put on a show for a mixed audience of Christians, Muslims, and rank unbelievers. All were there to immerse in what an ISIS mission statement brands the "perversion" of live music, in this case by Tuaregs whose woman-friendly variant of Islam was embodied by special guest Lalla Badi, the 75-year-old queen of tindé, a drum played exclusively by women who are also entrusted with a trove of ceremonial lyics. Although some Tuaregs have banded with the Saharan Islamists of northern Mali in pursuit of Tuareg statehood and their next meal, many more love music, and as we know better now than we could have then, on this particular night these particular Tuareg musicians were a freedom force without borders. Having always found Tinariwen's groundbreaking popularization of Saharan guitar a touch solemn, I'm glad the live remakes are rougher--so spirited alongside Badi's raw, regal cameos. All these human beings had a shared life to celebrate that night. Now, so do we--the devout and the impious alike. A-

Samba Touré: Albala (Glitterbeat, 2013) The slower the adaptable Timbuktu singer-guitarist takes it, the more hypnotic he gets ("Idjé Lalo," "Ajo Djamba") **

Samba Touré: Gandadiko (Glitterbeat, 2015) Ali Farka Touré grad so cosmopolitan he admits that "Su Wililé"'s beat isn't African--it belongs to Bo Diddley, who figured it out in Chicago ("I Kana Korto," "Wo Yendé Alakar") ***

Sidi Touré: Alafia (Thrill Jockey, 2013) It's long seemed odd that this substellar Songhai guitarist-singer landed on Bettina Richards's post-rock Thrill Jockey, where the bread-and-butter has been the communion-wafer-and-dream-whip of cool-jazz post-rock and chillout techno. But Richards has always made it her business to sign exactly what she likes, and why shouldn't she like the likable Sidi, who when finally vouchsafed a production budget came up with a Malian groove album more filling than the Sea and Cake, yet with a lightness I bet Richards groks. Recording in the teeth of 2012's Islamist surge, Touré eschews the bold anguish of that moment's Bassekou Kouyaté and Khaira Arby albums. The only way you can tell "Waayey" is pissed is that Thrill Jockey politely translates the title for us: "The Butcher." B+

Boubacar Traoré: Mbalimaou (Lusafrica, 2015) A Malian "blues" guitar record where producer Ballaké Sissoko's kora fits right in--deeply calming, slightly new age ("Mbalimaou," "Sina Moussou Djougou") ***

Lobi Traoré: Bamako Nights--Live at Bar Bozo 1995 (Glitterbeat, 2013) For a brief historical moment, working-class Bamako had its own guitar hero ("Banani," "Sigui Nyongon Son Fo") **

Lost in Mali (Riverboat, 2015) This showcase of 13 previously uncollected Malian artists risks recording them fresh rather than compiling unknown gems. Yet the duds are rare, and in my count include an opener whose sweetness you may well take to. Although several tracks from Ali Farka Toure's desert hometown of Niafunke make the cut, Tuaregs and Saharan guitar are missed--the winner I imagined was a camel-drivers' shout turned out to be a hunters' call-and-response from the Wassoulou woods in Mali's deep south. Just goes to show that Mali is a big place. There's even a reggae with some jam--from cosmopolitan Bamako, naturally. Reggae signifies because, like the Jamaica of the 70s, this impoverished nation has learned to exploit its musical riches as export and tourist attraction. The puritan murderers who invaded Bamako's Radisson November 20 thought that was disgusting. A-

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