What does Namian Sidibé sound like?
Malian songs of praise backed by a sole acoustic guitar.
The review of Namian Sidibé – Namian Sidibé
Most Malian music I’ve discovered has revolved around songs of praise being tied to the kora. Namian Sidibé sidestepped the kora and brought in her cousin Jules with his acoustic guitar for an intimate and stripped-back performance. Recorded at home, Namian Sidibé lets her vocal performance do the heavy lifting in this devotional album.
You can take the kora out of the music but the bombastic way of playing a stringed instrument is very particular to Mali. Jules brings a rustic virtuoso strength to the album and whilst the instrumentation never changes, each track has a distinctive rhythm and strut. It is difficult to not want to slap to the bass note twang of ‘Garaba Mama’ for example. It sounds effortlessly cool. Elsewhere with ‘Djougouya Mangni’ we get some guitar frame slaps but outside of that, expect a lot of noodling. That said, it’s Namian Sidibé’s voice and performance that utterly steals the show. It says a lot that the vocal stand out is the acapella track ‘Môgôya’ where Namian explores her whole vocal range with aplomb.
Your mileage with the stripped-back approach may vary because of the direct and simple approach. Each song usually repeats similar phrases and whilst the guitar never really moves into different tones or strengths across a track, Namian certainly does. She’ll happily start off quite restrained and slowly meander her way to a climactic passage. She doesn’t keep elevated at that level and wisely allows a track to build and then cascade back down again. Whether this is because the album feels like a live performance and she’s just improvisation her own performance on the spot or not, I’m not sure. As the album progresses though, the samey and sparse songs do start to blend into each other a little. This is an album where spreading out these tracks amongst other work might make the tracks stand out more individually.
I found this intimate and personal performance to be charming. Often Malian praise songs are sung in giant communal crowds so hearing such pulled-back versions was certainly interesting. Whilst I’d have liked more variation on the delivery, this self-titled album still has a purity and clarity to it that is difficult to capture outside of a live in-room performance.
Recommended track: Garaba Mama
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