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Afel Bocoum

World Circuit
Review by Jamie Renton

The gifted, unassuming Malian singer-guitarist Afel Bocoum is internationally known as a member of the band of his late mentor Ali Farka Toure and more recently, his work on Damon Albarn’s Mali Music and Africa Express projects. But it’s Bocoum’s reflective solo recordings which I think show him in the best light. So, I approached this World Circuit release, with its clutch of guest artists and promised combination of tradition and innovation, with a degree of caution. Bocoum wouldn’t be the first traditionally inclined artist to end up drowned in a stodgy soup of well-intentioned overproduction. Turns out I needn’t have worried.

Lindé may have flash, dash and big-name cameos, but at the heart of every track is the easy rolling West African rhythm and melody of Bocoum’s sound. Loping opener "Penda Djiga" sets the pace, "Bombolo Liilo" turns things towards Jamaica (just like the blues, the roots of reggae can be traced back to the rhythms of West Africa) with the trad 21-string kora harp rippling away and a guest turn from JA veteran trombonist Vin ‘Don D Junior’ Gordon.

"Fari Njungu" has impassioned call-and-response vocals and the violin of Joan As Policewoman sounding right at home alongside each other. "Sambu Kamba" rattles in a lean and bluesy style with horn stabs adding a touch of colour. "Kakilina" picks up the pace with a mesh of percussion, guitar and the traditional n’goni lute. The closing "Djougal" benefits from the presence of sadly recently deceased Nigerian Afrobeat drummer supreme Tony Allen.

Throughout the 11 tracks, Bocoum, now 65 but sounding sprightlier than ever, rules the roost with his assured vocals and hypnotic guitar stylings. Co-produced in the Malian capital Bamako by Albarn and World Circuit head honcho Nick Gold, Lindé is the most impressive recording of its kind since Fatoumata Diawara’s Fenfo (2018) and I suspect destined to feature on many Album of the Year lists. It’s certainly booked a place on mine. - Jamie Renton

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