REVIEW: Leni Stern is a German-born musician who started as a film composer, switched to jazz, moved in a more singer-songwriter direction, and in the last eight or so years has immersed herself in African music, especially that of Mali. All of her influences and experience are brought to bear on this intimate, unique album. Stern plays Mande music like a Malian, not like a toubab; she’s smart (and fortunate, probably a bit of both) to have allied herself with excellent collaborators. Her trio for this album includes the remarkable kamale ngoni player Haruna Samake and percussionist Mamadou Kone. In addition to her superb guitar playing, Stern is now doubling on ngoni ba, which she learned from Bassekou Kouyate and his brothers, the first family of the ngoni. And Bassekou’s wife Amy Sacko, one of the finest singers in Africa today, turns in two explosive performances on tracks 5 and 7. Stern’s songwriting really works in this context – her lyrics fits the Malian cadences as Paul Simon’s did with those of South Africa. This is a lovely, subtle album that fits equally well on your singer-songwriter or African music shelf – seek it out, it’s worth the hunt.
TOP TRACKS: 4 5 7
ALSO RECOMMENDED: 1 2 6 8