Adama Yalomba: Malian Riffs for Healing and Dancing

Waati Sera
Studio Mali Recordings
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What makes one piece of music memorable and another instantly forgettable?  Very often it's the riff–those repeated phrases and notes that attach themselves to the temporal lobe and won't let go. Few artists understand this as well as Malian superstar Adama Yalomba, whose eleven-track Waati Sera is a textbook on how to lay down memorable riffs. That Yalomba does so with such dexterity and diversity is one of many marvels of his new release. Waati Sera also has its heart in the right place. In his native Bombara the words translate "The Time Has Come" and it's a plea for troubled Mali to put aside its racial, ethnic, and religious divisions and forgive and heal. To do his part, Yalomba sings in Bombara, Fulani, Bobo, Tamasheq, and French and his lyrical themes are in keeping with his upbeat belief that Malians can find their common humanity.

Yolomba's admirable politics and values notwithstanding, most Westerners will first be drawn to the aforementioned riffs. He takes them a step further than most musicians. On his musical pallette they are not just repetitions that seek to be catchy; they are the foundational colors upon which he paints his songs. "Mali Za" ("The People of Mali") uses a balafon-like series of notes—possibly* played on the n'dan, a lute/harp hybrid–that are like a rain that cleanses everything in their path. The rest of the instruments and Yalomba's honey-sweet vocals drip from the riff as if they are merely differently shaped drops from the downpour. By contrast, "Harkass" uses the kora to establish a hypnotic effect that's similar in spirit to an Indian raga, and "Mido Yiduma" ("I Love You") is full-bore boogie with electric guitar and n'goni laying down hard rock hooks. If that's not enough, 'I Gning Yele" ("Open Your Eyes") feels like acid rock merged with dry gourd percussion, and "Baba" combines crunchy power chords with bluesy riffs that could have come straight out of Chi-town. Whatever Yalomba doesn't do instrumentally, he covers with his glorious voice. Check out his tongue-twisting vocals on "Fesse Fesse" ("reflection") and "Plus Jamais" ("Never Again") in which he aims his words with machine-gun staccato like sweep and aim. In other songs—the title track being among them–he's evocative of Michael Jackson in his pop phrasing, his coolness, and his danceable vibes. What an album! It's, in turns, gritty, sweet as sugar, contemplative, and sweaty dance tempo. This is surely an early candidate for the best world beat album of 2016.

Videos from the new release are still being developed but here's a remarkable 10-minute jam from 2007. (Nothing on the new record is over 4:34.) And here's one song from his website.
Rob Weir

* There are no liner notes with the recording or online that provide further information on the instrumentation or guest artists.

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