Leila Gobi 2017
Review by Bruce Miller
These two CDs provide different aspects of West African pop music recorded this year. Valérie Ekoumé's latest offering- her second- is the slicker of the two. French born, but with roots in Cameroun, she studied music formally for half a decade; youtube clips reveal a woman who can knock out a pop ballad with nothing but her own piano as accompaniment just as easily as she can slide into a Makossa-influenced vamp and bring an audience to its feet.
But this is music for the comfortable, and as such, it's a tough sell for listeners who swallow pop sultriness with at least a spoonful of depth. (This record gives credits to her stylist, as well as the company that provides her makeup and hair.) Which is not to say there's nothing here. She's got a voice that glides over the material, from high pitched swoops to concise vocal jabs that land way inside the grooves, with which this album brims over. “Lobiko” is a case in point. The guitar pattern that starts the tune points to Cameroun by way of Congolese rhumba, which had a massive influence on Cameroonian Makossa in the first place. So, Ekoume's musical roots are there, for whatever that's worth. But this is pop sunshine at its glossiest, something that may make even those Putumayo releases found in Starbucks seem raw.
Leila Gobi's sophomore LP is a different story. The recording- her voice, drenched in confident stealth over guitar, bass, and percussion- is complimented by whatever production constraints Hampathe Bah Studio in Bamako, Mali imposed on it. While no one would mistake this for the work of a Tamesheq griot, it manages to stay a bit closer to Malian pop's musical chassis, much her like her debut. In fact, despite the stripped-down accompaniment, this record delves a bit further into dance grooves than her first one.
"Tchimey Goney" (excerpt)
“Tchimey Goney,” though a song warning of being fooled by lies, manages to be worthy of dance club floors without much studio tampering. “Tibo Gadeina,” with its references to rains and harvest, is driven by an infectious wah-wah drenched guitar riff. 2017 emphasizes the pulse already inherent in Mali's deepest roots music, and while she trades in deep tradition for something that might move a few units globally, like Oumou Sangare, she never abandons what makes gives her music identity in the first place. - Bruce Miller