Few records could have been produced in more challenging circumstances than this third LP by the Malian Ngoni maestro. Begun on the day rebel troops staged a coup just half a mile away from the studio in downtown Bamako, the recording was subject to power cuts and daily curfews. Worse, with the formerly peaceful country plunged into crisis and hardline Islamist groups in the north posing the threat of a nationwide ban on music, the very future of Malian song was plunged into doubt.
Kouyate responded by recording this riotous celebration of Malian culture as a call for unity in the face of oppression. It’s a more invigorated and eclectic work than his previous efforts – and, inevitably, more political. The Latin-flavoured Sinaly and the insistent Bhundu Boys-esque Segu Jajiri both recount tales of Mali’s historical resistance to forced Islamisation, while the title track and Kele Magni are pleas for peace and tolerance. Elsewhere, Zoumana Tereta provides indigenous violin and raw vocals on the spare, skeletal blues of Mali Koori (cotton song) while wife Amy Sacko turns in a scintillating vocal performance on the plaintive and heartfelt Wagadou; less impressive is Taj Mahal’s guest turn on Poye 2 which feels contrived and out of place by comparison. Kouyate has recorded more consistent albums than this but, as a statement of defiance, Jama Ko could be his most important work.