B.A self-made composition with a muted but distinctive tone played by the Jola people of Senegal and Gambia before the banjo, an instrument at the heart of so much folk, country and bluegrass music, was ekonting. was a three-stringed gourd instrument. and Guinea-Bissau. In 2000, ethnomusicologist Daniel Laemou-Ahuma Jatta demonstrated a striking similarity to early Caribbean and American instruments at a U.S. banjo competition. Along with other West African lutes such as Ngoni, Shalam and Gimburi, he drives a story of survival and self-expression.
Ekonting music is a living West African tradition, as this exhilarating 25-track Smithsonian Folkway Anthology reveals. In 2019, village squares, adobe houses and impromptu studios recorded songs by players of all ages covering love, war, folklore, loneliness and protest. All are agile, playful and melancholic, often simultaneously exploring the capabilities of the instrument.
Musa Diatta’s gentle and warm performance of Watu Eiring Bee Kaolo (The Time Has Come to Rest) opens the proceedings as an anthem about how music clears the mind. Abdoulaye Diallo’s lovely, husky high sopranos and fast fingers accompanied by a medley of love songs mingled with the story of a man’s survival from the militia and an infectious swath of wrestling songs. The group Sijam Bukan (Ears of the People) offers several tracks whose melodies and percussion are sharp and bright, and their call-and-response songs are captivating.
Also, Elisa Diedhiou, a rare female player with a wonderfully deep voice (the clashing bass rhythms of her solo track Aline Sitoe are gorgeously thickened with tension) and Jean Kangaben Djibalen for 9 minutes. The nearby epic, Madu, is also excellent. It’s a story of love and betrayal that flutters between declarative speeches and songs. With its timeless and radical sound, this song and many others show how these ancient instruments can sound fresh in the careful hand.
Also released this month
Released before Christmas Shovel Dance Collective‘s The Water Is the Shovel of the Shore (self-release) mixes traditional ballads and instrumentation with music-concrete-style field recordings of waves, water pumps, wild birds and pump organ, an urgent and bewildering record. A winter epic.husband and wife duo Trina Basu and Arun Ramamurthy‘s Nakshatra (Spinster) is a gorgeous, ruminative listening that fuses folk and South Indian Carnatic musical traditions with heavenly improvisation. Archie Churchill-MossThe debut album Ph(r)ase (Slow Worm) showcases the young accordionist’s many talents as a performer and composer, turning reel and dance influences into shape-shifting, swirling tunes.