With a deeply worrying political situation at home in Mali, the business of promoting a new album must seem almost trivially self-indulgent for a musician such as Bassekou Kouyaté.
Yet the immensely charismatic master of the ngoni, the cricket bat-shaped ancestor of the banjo, managed to address both issues with statesman-like aplomb.
Kouyaté and his brilliant band, Ngoni Ba, including his wife, the ultra-expressive singer Amy Sacko, and his ngoni-playing son Moustafa, featured tracks from Jama Ko without undue ceremony during a typically tightly executed set. And in a gesture of solidarity, Kouyaté joined his fellow Sahara Soul performers, Ousmane Ag Mossa, of desert blues band Tamikrest, and Sidi Touré mid-concert in a meditative blues for their homeland.
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While Touré's opening set had reinforced the notion of Mali being the source of Mississippi blues, with superb ngoni and guitar work and heartfelt singing driven and complemented by virtuosic calabash playing, Tamikrest suggested a reverse transportation, their rather lumbering, soporific blues jams conjuring up images of 1960s West Coast America despite their rhythm section signifying their Tuareg roots with face-covering head scarves.
Ngoni Ba could never be described as lumbering. Their expertly choreographed movements are light-footed and their playing lithe and almost liquid in its fluency, with the alternately deeply plunging and highly pitched singing tones of a talking drum adding to the exhilarating urgency of Sacko's singing and their intricately meshed bass, tenor and treble ngonis. Kouyaté's own playing, suggestive of styles including blues and flamenco, and his range of tones and depth of expression continue to amaze, a virtuosity all the more cherishable for being worn so lightly.