Saturday, February 16, 2008

les amazones de guinee, wamato review

A lot of the press for the outstanding new album by Les Amazones de Guinée has centred, perhaps understandably, on two facts; that the record, Wamato, is only the group's second in 46 years, and that the band are entirely made up of female members of the Guinean army. Those are rather extraordinary facts and too exciting to leave out of any review, but far more important is the exhilarating quality of Wamato.

The album, recorded in Mali 25 years after the band's last release, is a mesmerising demonstration of all the things that make West African dance music so pleasurable to listen to. The two guitars, first off, are wonderful, sounding as if they are perpertually engaged in a teasing dance, dipping in and out, spinning complimentary riffs and occasionally locking into a delightful, hypnotic groove. When one or the other breaks from the simple licks to revel in an impeccably-played flourish, my heart duly leaps.

The percussion is equally wonderful; crisp, driving Mande rhythms, awash with twinkling cymbals. The vocals, handled by at least three different singers, seem to touch all bases, sometimes light and mellifluous, sometimes deep, twinged with regret. But the overall mood is overpoweringly positive, and both the harmonies and the call and response lines resonate with the band's self-evident joy in music.

Perhaps most impressively, the music is punctuated by gloriously powerful brass arrangements, the two saxophones delivering jazzy runs and powerful soul riffs by turn. Their gleaming presence lifts an already wonderful music several notches closer to perfection. The record only falters when the band switch to the French language on the disappointing 'Meilleurs Voeux'. Even there, however, they only get through two minutes of a faintly grisly, mournful ballad before the horns arrive and switch the song's emphasis so successfully that one immediately forgets what came before.

This slip-up aside, the whole concoction is deeply hypnotic and extraordinarily warm; an engaging pop record with a thudding, affirming heart-beat. What a fantastic album.


Mich said...

Spurs all the way!

jonathan said...

Hmm, a slightly perplexing comment. But as it happens, I agree.