As it rises dazed and bleeding from the blitzkreig of rape and pillage by a crazed sect bent on destroying its cultural legacy, let’s think about Mali for a few minutes and its unique and disproportionate contribution to music. The annual Festival of the Desert outside Timbuktu, cancelled this year due to the unrest, has grown into an international draw. Consider singer Salif Keita and the late guitarist Ali Farka Touré, the singular Tuareg collective Tinariwen, and kora player Toumani Diabaté, whose family history claims him as the latest in a line of seventy-one generations of musicians.
Ali´s son Vieux and Israeli pianist Idan Raichel bumped into each other at an airport in Germany. Raichel was effusive in his praise of Vieux´ music and although Vieux thought Raichel looked like a crazy hippie with those dreadlocks, it was instant karma. When they entered the studio and improvised this album together with Israeli bassist Yossi Fine and Malian calabash player Souleymane Kane, both say they discovered something new about their playing.
This is the heartwood of the musical encounter, as the colourful booklet records in detail, warm patter in the “I and thou” tradition, a relationship without bounds. The softly opening “Azawade” is so familiarly African it feels utterly universal while “Experience” is cozily Ashkenazic. On “Bamba” Touré and Raichal take turns making each other feel cozy so that each can trill solo – those are twenty very fleet fingers. Touré sings “Alkataou” into a small choir of triumphant smiles.
“Hawa” is a blues so blue it would be just as home in the desert as the delta. Yankale Segal´s tar, a long-necked lute, adds a shiver to “Kfar” and Frédéric Yonnet´s harmonica grit to “Touré”. “Le Niger” fairly cascades. And what a breath of fresh air is Israeli-Ethiopian Cabra Casay singing the Tigrit lyrics she penned for “Ane Nahakta” before the album closes with a flashy arabesque, Mark Eliyahu, originally from Dagestan, a Paganini on the violin-like, Central Asian kamanche.
It´s not as much something like you´ve never heard before, but you´ve rarely heard it so close up, so accomplished and at such a poignant moment.