BKO – Mali Foli Coura

Album Review | Buda Musique | Review by Marc Higgins | 3/5

BKO are a quintet of musicians from Mali. At their core is French percussionist Aymeric Krol, who in Bamako to study percussion under the master musician Ibrahima Sarr assembled the core group of musicians that form the band.  Originally the BKO Quintet, releasing an EP in 2012 and an album in 2013 the group’s sound has become harder and more electric with each release.  Now just known as BKO, a snappier more rock sounding proposition, their album Mali Foli Coura just crackles and burns with a raw garage band energy.  West Africa’s Kora, the 21 string harp lute has conquered the ears of the world, the ‘falling water’ notes of its lyrical arpeggios have an undeniable universal beauty.  But BKO are built around the the Donso Ngoni, picture a Kora with only six strings played on its side like a guitar and the Djeli Ngoni, imagine a stretched banjo like instrument (the banjo being a descendent of the Djeli).  The Donso Ngoni is the instrument of the Malian hunter people the Donso, the Djeli Ngoni the Griots or Djeli.  The Griots are the storytellers, historians, praise singers, repositories of oral tradition. Their two vocalists Fassara Sacko and Nfaly Diakité are Griot and Donso respectively.  So BKO are very much a meeting of traditions and musical strands.  But this captivating album is not just about the instruments or heritage, it is more about what those instruments can do in the hands of inventive virtuoso players.  It is the double bass thumping of the Donso Ngoni and the Djeli Ngoni, given a raw overdriven electronic attack on “Tangwanana” the opening track that grab and hold your attention.  The tight percussion of Krol, Fassara Sacko and the fore-mentioned Ibrahima Sarr, the pulsing bass of the Donso Ngoni and the electric Djeli Ngoni make a wonderful music that owes as much to the primal rock of The MC5 and the spacerock of 70s Hawkwind as the meeting of Malian musical traditions.  “Salia” opens with the strange 50s rock meets Ali Farka Toure sound of the Djeli Ngoni, some hypnotic solo and duet vocals, building to some superb wah wah Ngoni playing.  Those wonderful call and response vocals and otherworldly electrical Dejli Ngoni feature on “Strange Koreduga”.  Anyone labouring under the misconception that ‘world’ (sic) music is dry, worthy and dull, listen to the last minute of this track, it has as much attack, bite and punk energy as anything by The White Stripes.  “Dirty Donso” features a kind of phased vocal that sounds like the best of the much missed Malian musician Issa Bagayogo.  Before his untimely death in 2016, Issa was affectionately known as Techno Issa for his perfect marriage of Mali roots music and western dance.  The smooth vocals and the huge beat on this track demonstrate that BKO have much to offer to the Dance Music audience.  Remixers have already started reworking tracks off this album, and it isn’t even out yet, but to these ears the rhythms and pulse of the original music have a stronger pull.  “BKO Nana” and “Rougeot” follow the band’s distinctive template, a great groove, some raw electric licks, solid bass riffs and a fine impassioned vocal.  Closing track “Mon Amour” is a beautiful love song with French singer songwriter Mathieu Boogaerts on second vocal.  The BKO sound, with the light as air springy bass riff and the sparkling Ngoni is a perfect summer dance hit in the making, you can easily imagine this playing in a million cafés or on a host of hip playlists.  A gossamer light pop closer that again shows how easily Mali can blend with western dance music.  Perhaps the legacy of this excellent album and this fine band is to demonstrate that the term World Music is a taunt to the lazy, a reminder that there is a world of music out there and it ignore it is ultimately to miss out.