By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Sahel music comes voice first, and in the '70s the Rail Band gave the world two great singers. But the version that made its New York debut at LaGuardia High School July 11which beyond Tounkara included not a single musician from the 1995-96 edition chronicled in Banning Eyre's In Griot Timewas about groove. Tounkara stood stage left in a subtle yet resplendent robe-and-pants outfit, at once ancillary and in control, and worked intricately gorgeous riffs I felt I'd heard before ("but not in that order," a friend emended) into rhythmic patterns that took off like prime live P-Funk, though their shapes were their own. No horns, no female chorus, none of that studio gimcrackeryjust Tounkara sounding like two guitarists playing rhythms-that-had-melodies, and everybody but the singers serving and embellishing them. Nor do the records do more than suggest his sound, a riveting thing that adds muscle and metal to that mbiralike twang you can hear as far away as Zimbabwesort of like what some bluesmen get from a slide, only . . . not.
Being Malian, the identically blue-robed singers killed when they got the chance. The shorter and older of them was soaring and incanting by the end, and if I'd known which song was up, Eyre's excellent program notes might have provided a glimmer of what he was worked up about. But it's just as well I didn't. The singerDamory Kouyaté or maybe Samba Sissoko, exactly who isn't the pointwas worked up about the music, and he was serving it. That was the point.
Click here to read Milo Miles's review of the Super Rail Band's Mansa.