After a six-year absence from the recording studio, Malian guitarist Habib Koité and his band Bamada return this fall with a stunning new album, Afriki. Devoted fans have waited a long time for Habib to return to the studio to record the follow up to his critically acclaimed 2001 release Baro. As with many craftsmen, Habib is a perfectionist, and spends a great deal of time composing and arranging his material. Habib draws on styles from the different regions of Mali, rather than solely on the music of his particular area as most Malian musicians do. Habib has gained a strong fan base by integrating the rock and folk sounds of the Western world, without watering down his cherished Malian roots. Habib descends from a line of griots, traditional troubadors who provide wit, wisdom and entertainment and his charisma and magnetism translates across cultures.
Years in the making and recorded on three continents, Afriki finds Habib exploring some new musical directions. James Brown veteran Pee Wee Ellis arranged horns on the song "Africa," which calls upon Africans to take responsibility for their own future and not depend on the outside world. Habib touches on personal subjects, as in "N'ba" (My Mother), an homage to his mother who passed away suddenly while he was on tour. The rousing song "Massaké" (The King) finds humor in the royal status of children who are treated like kings by parents that obey their every whim.
The overarching theme of Afriki, which means "Africa" in the Malian Bambara language, is about the strengths and challenges of the African continent. "People here in Africa are willing to risk death trying to leave for Europe or the USA, but they are not willing to take that risk staying to develop something here in Africa," says Habib. "Life can be really good or really bad wherever you live. People need to understand that. Even though Mali is poor, we still have good quality of life: You can walk outside and smile and someone will smile back. I have thought about it a lot, and I am not convinced poor countries necessarily have a worse quality of life then rich countries."
Afriki emphasizes a tight acoustic sound, showcasing some little-heard traditional instruments such as polyphonic hunter's horns, alongside balafón (wooden xylophone), n'goni (a Malian lute) and Habib's iconic voice and guitar. "I want to open a small window to the new generation," explains Habib regarding his use of Malian folk instruments, "to help them hear our old traditions even if it is in new music." Afriki will surely please Habib's extensive fan base and should help bring the Malian superstar to an even wider audience.
Habib Koité & Bamada's Afriki is the fifth release from Cumbancha, a record label founded by Jacob Edgar, who has been the head of A&R at Putumayo World Music for many years. The album was co-produced by Cumbancha and Contre Jour, Habib's longtime management and production partner.