Afel Bocum, Damon Albarn, Toumani Diabate and Friends - Mali Music

Albarn, the cultural magpie. Forever ripping up styles and presenting it through his own skewed art school vision. From way back in the day with Seymour / early Blur's shoegazing baggy leanings, their mid period Kinks phase, Pavement styled alt-rock, hip-hop with Gorillaz and now alongside Afel Bocum, Toumani and various other musicians he tackles Malian Music. "Mali Music" is the first release on Honest Jon's Records, a label co-owned by Albarn and the London based record shop of the same name, which looks set to release a series of releases from as diverse genre's as Asian Breakbeat, Turkish folk and Portuguese fado. Its an ambitious project, but on the basis on "Mali Music" and an album sampler one that looks set to be one of this years essential labels.

"Mali Music" is an album that cross pollinates the abstract nature of world music with the pop sensibilities of Albarn and as a result succeeds in challenging the listeners own perceptions while never losing focus. "Spoons" is one of the albums more commercial moments with The Symmetric Orchestra's lush arrangements and neo-classical piano motif's courtesy of Simon Burwell. While alot of this album is exploring new territory, as much for Albarn as it is for the listener, the likes "Le Relax" and "Sunshine" hark back to the sound of old. The former taking in the the loose dub flavours of Gorillaz while the latter recalls some of Blur's more lo-fi moments.

Hopefully Mali Music will succeed in what it set out to do - taking world music out of the ghettoized landscape and placing it firmly in the centre of cultural importance. While its very nature belies the fact that it will not be an album placed on endless repeat, its an essential album for those who's musical taste's stretch no further than Westernized rock and pop music. The very idea that a casual listener will pick up this album simply because of Albarn's involvement....and then take the journey to undiscovered musical territory is a heartening one.

Alex McCann

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