Mory Kante’s African groundbreaking 1987 release, “Akwaba Beach,” was a crossover blend of European production and African pop that became a staple on European dance floors. Born into a family of griots in Guinea, Kante became a rival singer to Salif Keita in Mali’s famed Rail Band, but as the West African dance bands folded in the 1980s, Kante gravitated to Europe to create catchy world-music formulas.
His new release, “Sabou,” however, returns to his roots. Gone are the synthesizers and slick remixing, replaced by the pristine tones of kora, balafon, flute and ethereal vocals. Like Youssou N’Dour’s equally excellent release, “Egypt,” “Sabou,” which means “the cause,” also returns to sincere musical values. Every song showcases not only Kante’s vocal art, but his impressive multi-instrumental skills. He plays balafon (African xylophone) and kora (African harp), while the band weaves an entrancing tapestry of traditional instrumental sounds.
Every song is constructed with care and conviction. “Biriya” is based on a ceremonial Mandinkan chant, with a large chorus of backing vocals. “Kenkan” drives forward in huge rhythmic leaps, the call-and-response rising to a peak of intensity at the end. The title track is a slow meditation sung with deep feeling and crisp impact. On each cut, Kante’s powerful vocals soar. “Sabou” is an authentic homecoming and one of the best African releases of the year.
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