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V/A - Pekos/Yoro Diallo / Bougouni Yaalali / Daouda Dembele

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Artist: V/A

Album: Pekos/Yoro Diallo / Bougouni Yaalali / Daouda Dembele

Label: Yaala Yaala

Review date: Jul. 3, 2007


Jack Carneal, along with his wife and son, moved to Bougouni, Mali, in 1999 where he soon realized there was a double-wide swath between the overly-produced, made-for-export sounds of Ali Farka Toure or Amadou and Mariam and the music favored by the locals. Visits to cassette kiosks, as well a quick listen to the hard, dusty grooves pumping from boom boxes or car stereos, quickly steered him toward the sounds preferred by locals, examples of which are presented here on what one only hopes to be the first three of many releases.

Adorned with stark black and white photos in place of track or artist information and with seemingly no concern for fidelity or artist credits, these releases share a ramshackle fanaticism with Sublime Frequencies. And frankly, the music is better for it. It's not like Carneal is presenting anything new; European labels such as Buda Musique, with their "musique du monde" series, Ocora, SWP and NYC's own Lyrichord have been presenting hardcore African folk sounds for years. West African griots' epic stories, the infectious monotony of southern Malian hunters' songs and other examples of the music found in this huge, partial desert country show up in smartly stocked public and university music libraries all over the U.S. What sets Carneal's work apart from at least some of the above mentioned is that these releases weren't driven by grants or academia, but instead a simple joy in sharing something that no doubt altered many of his musical notions, sounds that will no doubt do the same to anyone who picks these discs up. And with Drag City's distribution, this stuff aims less at collecting dust on a library shelf and more toward infiltrating the indie record bin.

The music itself is jaw-droppingly intense, ponderously repetitive and rhythmically driving. One can hear its echoes in the deep, dark drones of American bluesmen Robert Pete Williams and Junior Kimbrough. In fact, while the blues/West Africa connection has been harped on by everyone from Samuel Charters to Corey Harris, one listen to any of these discs confirms it all. The third in the set consists of a single 42-minute performance by Segou griot Daouda Dembele, weaving what is perhaps a 1,000-year-old story over his own repeated jeligoni. Occasionally he shifts patterns or speeds the tempo, only to revert to the cushion of his original groove, which may as well go on for days. Not once does his performance outstay its welcome.

The Bougouni Yaalali disc, a compilation of Carneal's own field recordings in Bougouni and Bamako, are "soundtracks to checker games (and) fetes." While there is a variety of sounds here, including some heavily and heavenly distorted percussion, the discs centers on the sounds of Malian hunters, whose hypnotic vocals, bass-like ngoni playing and clanking percussion back-up are clearly connected to what became Gnawa music in Morocco after the arrival of sub-Saharan slaves. Whatever this music's intentions, it's incredibly danceable.

Which finally leads to the Pekos/Yoro Diallo disc. Supposedly recorded straight to boombox two hours into the bush from Bougouni in the late í90s, this is some of the hottest and most repetitive string-based music Iíve ever heard. The fact that it's often distorted, wavering or occasionally off-pitch matters little once the opening track hits. The vocal duets, declamatory and gruff, spill from the speakers and threaten to override the rhythmic fire broiling underneath them. On the final 20-minute track, the musicians are play outside themselves, weaving spells and daring listeners to sit still. Carneal should earn a Grammy for simply rescuing this from battered cassette.

By Bruce Miller

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