There’s an old joke about an ethnomusicologist who travels to a remote African village to study a rare form of drumming. Upon his arrival, he’s ecstatic to hear the complex polyrhythms and to learn that the drummers play round the clock. But after a few days, unable to sleep though the night because of the constant pounding, the professor starts to feel like he’s going crazy. He convinces his guide to lead him out of the village. Just as they leave, the drumming stops.
“Ah,” he says, with a sigh of relief. “Let’s go back.”
“Oh, no,” says the guide. “Drums stop, bass solo!”
The drumming never stops on Wassoulou Foli, and you don’t want it to. And no monotonous bass lines loom in the shadows ready to pounce into the silence.
Djembe (hand drum) player Amadou “Taga” Sidibe and his cohorts—Shaka Diallo on djembe, Lansine Sidibe on konkoni (double-headed bass drum), Yakoub Sidibe on konkoni and dun dun (bass drum played with a stick)—sustain relentless momentum, and charismatic intrigue, with their complexly patterned beats. The only other featured instruments are the riveting voices of lead singer Tu Sinayoko and chorus vocalist Sita Diarra. The minimal lineup produces some of the most thrilling music to come out of West Africa in recent years.
Taga, 40, grew up in the Wassoulou region of southern Mali. In addition to life skills as a medicine man, hunter, and farmer, he has combined a mastery of various traditional rhythms with brilliant, lightning-fast technique.
His debut album is the latest release from Kanaga System Krush (K.S.K.), an independent label committed to the preservation and promotion of West African music and to “fair trade” profit sharing with the artists. The label’s roster includes other djembe players, guitarists, drum ensembles, and virtuosos on such indigenous harp-like instruments as the kora and n’goni. K.S.K. founder Aja Salvatore’s passion for Malian music also led to the production of a documentary film, Music in Mali: Life is Hard, Music is Good, which will be released this summer.