As electronic production methods become cheaper and more widely available, producers from Senegal to Teheran have begun learning to compose digitally. The majority of these tracks don’t reach Western ears, instead passed around on pirated CDs and USB sticks, to be blasted out of cars and mobile phones but never put online. One of the growing number of labels looking to share this music with the wider world is Sahel Sounds, the Oregon-based imprint run by Christopher Kirkley. The label supplements its run of traditional West African music with intriguing productions from younger local musicians.
Sahel Sounds first tapped Mali’s Luka Guindo last year, for a limited cassette run of some of his hip hop productions. These tracks were rough but colourful, easily imagined streaming from the windows of a car kicking up the Bamako dust. Guindo’s second album under his Luka Productions alias is a different affair, combining local instrumentation – djembe, balafon and kora – with new age atmospherics and downtempo, balearic-leaning beats. The resulting cocktail is meditative yet funky and, in a music world where the key to success is often imitation, sounds genuinely fresh.
Compared to Luka’s last release, the tracks on Fasokan sound remarkably polished. There are no rappers on these tracks, leaving only soft spoken-word passages that pepper the record. This allows the music to shine, from the rich ambience that backgrounds the productions to the unhurried instrumental motifs. Yelen and Terriya are among the dreamiest, the subtle arrangement of their rhythms leaving space for the melodies to unravel elegantly. Album highlight Allah Be nails the balance between motion and relaxation, threading its percussive explorations with a gently wafting flute melody.
Guindo’s staple sound here is consuming and beautifully fleshed-out, but that doesn’t stop him going on a number of successful deviations. Furu Boyan adds call-and-reply vocals to particularly tranquil effect, while closer Kora Koukan adds only the gentlest electronic touches to the graceful figures of the titular instrument. The mood isn’t entirely chilled, though – Dambéfoli is an unexpected club track, its brisk drumwork complemented by a cycling array of balafon and kora lines. Later Dignètignena contrasts the generous timbres of its melodies with ululating and gunshots. It speaks to a universal truth – where there’s beauty, there’s often danger. Most of Fasokan, however, helps the listener escape that reality. With this music, you can dream of a different world.