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Adam Klein’s most recent solo album, Wounded Electric Youth, was very well received here on Flyinshoes, and now he’s back with something completely different. Adam is based in Athens, Georgia, but a Peace Corps stint in Mali a decade or so ago brought him strong connections to the country, and a huge respect for its culture. Thus, Dugu Wolo is a set of songs predominantly written in the Bambara language and recorded with Malian musicians performing on traditional instruments. This is a remarkably soulful record, leaving a warm glow in its wake. Many of the songs amount to homilies, “messages concerning development, hope, dignity and peace”, as Adam writes in his sleeve notes, and the delivery is so heartfelt (both vocally and instrumentally) that the dignity shines through.
I don’t have huge familiarity with Malian music but I have enough to recognise the sounds and the spirit that comes through here. The fluid lines on electric guitar are augmented by warm, liquid sounds from kora and ngoni (held to be the distant ancestor of the banjo) and rhythms tapped out on a variety of instruments. Recorded over just four days, Adam says most parts were recorded on the first take, the initial response of great musicians to the song that he’d laid down as a base recording. At times there is a sublime beauty to the interplay of instruments, with the vocals remaining laid-back – conversational even. I’d imagine immense credit must go the mixing engineer for getting the feel of relaxed, organic music-making to shine through; there really is a strong sense of a few musical pals gathered round, playing off each other as the tropical evening draws on.
Adam has gone to great lengths with his Malian collaborators to make this a properly Malian record, getting the lyrics and the melodies to feel right for a Malian audience. Two songs are recorded in English, however, and once or twice there’s a sense of American folk melody in the tune – just enough to nicely suggest the connections that may exist between two apparently separate traditions, the “Atlantic passage” that he says he heard in the playing of Malian bluesman, Lobi Traore. I have absolutely no idea how this record will go down with world music fans in the west or with the Malian audience it’s primarily intended for; all I can say is that it strikes me as a rather beautiful piece of work that can only help spread the idea of the interconnectedness of us all on this planet. As I write, Mali is going through a period of violent upheaval that rather brutally shoves aside earnest messages of public health and community togetherness; here’s hoping peaceful conclusions will be reached sooner rather than later, enabling a return to the spirit enshrined on Dugu Wolo.
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