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Listen to the Long-Awaited New Album from Mali's Innovative BKO Quintet

BKO Quintet’s excellent album of “tradi-modern” Malian music is finally seeing the light of day.

Photo courtesy of Buda Musique

BKO Quintet recorded their new album, Bamako Today, in 2012, during the height of the conflict in Mali that threatened to separate the north of the country from the south and further destabilize the entire region. Now, in 2015, things have calmed down a bit (or at least the Malian government has just agreed to yet another ceasefire with Tuereg rebels in the North) and BKO Quintet’s excellent album of “trade-modern” Malian music is thankfully seeing the light of day.

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BKO Quintet is made up five men of diverse background and musical influence. Co-founder Aymeric Krol went to Mali to study drum with Ibrahima Sarr, who is renowned for his mastery of the djembe (the traditional rope-tuned goatskin drum). The two men enlisted two singers: Fassara Sacko (who also plays dunun) and Nfaly Diakité. The two singers have different styles, one being more of the urbane griot tradition and one more rural and melodic “donso” or hunter tradition (Diakité made his name singing in animist ceremonies). To laymen, the stylistic vocal differences may seem minimal (think Simon and Garfunkel rather than metalcore's clean/harsh alternation) but the combination is novel in contemporary Malian music. Rounding out the group is the Abdoulaye Kone, virtuoso of the djelingoni, a surprisingly versatile lute-like instrument. Kone’s psychedelic influences are apparent, and his interplay with Diakité’s bass-toned dansongoni is very (flaming) telepathic. The combination of the five mens' aesthetics has resulted in an album that, vibe-wise, rests comfortably between the lilting jazzy beauty of Rokia Traore and the driving groove-punk of Songhoy Blues.

The music of BKO Quintet alternates between bracing full-tilt boogie and meditative passages of trance-y quietude. I am not qualified to proclaim whether or not this combination of traditions is entirely new or if it’s the continuation of cross-pollination that so much great music comes from, but whatever the case is; it works, it moves, and it’s never boring.

Bamako Today is going to be released on French label Buda Musique on March 10th. Stream the entire album below:

Zachary Lipez is on Twitter - @zacharylipez