Balani Show Super Hits: Electronic Street Parties from Mali (Sahelsounds)
“Balani Show” refers to the Malian street parties enlivening boulevards from Bamako to Sikasso as well as the energetic dance music created by urban remixers specifically for such festivities, and from the way compiler Christopher Kirkley describes the style’s genesis, it’s tough to deny parallels with The Bronx circa 1975. You know the story, or one like it: once balafon players started proving too expensive for everyday hire, DJs and creative types started fucking around with records and sound systems, only in true millennial fashion the innovations were driven by laptops and cellphones rather than cds or turntables. Kirkley promises the ten tracks and seven artists represented herein showcase songs blessed with “heavy rotation” in Bamako, and the result is this quite literal awesome tape from Africa - balafon patterns over incessant electro-beats, melodic chant and Bambara raps atop shekere and djembe instrumentation, rhythmic variations on coupé décalé, kuduro, and good old hip-hop. And while the production isn’t especially dense, occasional auto-tuned vocals and ad hoc synth flourishes add melodic variety to the all-encompassing groove. Our compiler recommends a very loud volume for recreating that outdoor Malian milieu. Private art, it has its pleasures. But public art is sometimes so damn necessary.
Moreno and L’Orch First Moja-One, Vol. 2: More Pili (Stern’s)
Stern’s ongoing archival dig into the vaults of Nairobi’s AIT Records brings more West African soukous from the husky-voiced Moreno Batamba, who leapt between labels and crisscrossed national borders with Orchestra Moja-One before his early death. Vol. 1 bundled a 1983 Moreno album with rare 1977 acetates. This digital-only follow-up is early 1980s, with two unreleased cuts from ’81 and six of eight tracks pushing beyond nine minutes. No horns and only a few sporadic keyboard washes, but plenty of rippling guitar from Mokili Sesti, on loan from fellow Congolese bandleader Samba Mapangala’s mighty Orchestra Virunga (Mapangala himself contributes backing vocals to “Dunia Ni Duara”). Familiar names surface; Lava Machine once again occupies the drum kit, and much love is rendered unto Moreno’s beloved Tanzanian girlfriend, Pili. And while the brisk arpeggios and rumba breakdowns of soukous/lingala prove as always remarkably sustaining, if it’s variety you seek, the final three tracks suggest this natural performer’s wide range - the jubilant reggae of “Sitaki Mambo,” some organist channelling Spooner Oldham on soul ballad “Mariana,” and the raw guitar of lo-fi closer “Bokila”.
Nils Petter Molvær, Switch (Okeh Records)
One of this Norwegian fusioneer’s cornier albums, what with the Joni Mitchell title allusions and the weighty presence of pedal steel guitarist Geir Sundstøl. Lending a nice Bill Frisell/spaced cowboy vibe to the windswept Man With No Name vistas of opener “Switch,” Sundstøl assumes the duet position for the four all-too-aptly-named “Intrusions” that swallow fifteen minutes of playing time. But whenever Molvær lets drummer Erland Dahlen cut loose, this shimmers and slams, the leader’s close-miked trumpet snarling above synth gurgles and layered percussive rivers. Those quieter corners have their pleasures. Still, for that cosmic worldbeat fix, program the album thusly and call it an EP: “The Kit,” “Strange Pillows,” “Bathroom”.