Fliss Evans reports on Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba - Cambridge Folk Festival, 2 Aug 2008

bassekou kouyate
44th Cambridge Folk Festival
What a treat! The sound from Ngoni Ba is rich and confident, and a much-needed reminder that Africa is so much more than a place on the news, of malcontent and strife – it has a rich, artistic life that thrives despite the various pressures felt throughout that continent.

Kouyate himself is nothing if not a virtuoso – in his hands, the ngoni (something like a lute, and the forerunner to the banjo) sounds at one moment Oriental, the next Middle Eastern, then again as though its player is from the deep south of America. There are even some rock n’ roll-style riffs, reminding us that from African music (to a degree, although not exclusively) came the blues, and from the blues came Elvis Presley. Kouyate also likes to have fun, and this playfulness and exuberance transcends all language barriers. During one song, he lifts a foot and plants it firmly on one of the front-stage floor amps, striking a Jimmi Hendrix pose as he plays a particularly lively yet fully traditional song, and he and the audience all revel in the incongruity. ‘You happy?’ he asks the crowd. ‘Yes!’ they shout back.

Without doubt, this was roots music at its best – complex, lush, and born of generations-worth of talent, hard work and careful finessing. We hope to see Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba back at the Cambridge Folk Festival very soon.

Writer: Fliss Evans