Not wanting to speak too bluntly, but Jack Carneal’s Yaala Yaala imprint is doing a good thing – disseminating tapes and other recordings of Malian music through the passing-fad format of the compact disc to wider audiences. They’re presented beautifully, framed by simple B&W images, and up until now, very little contextualizing text, which admittedly was a mixed blessing: more information would have been handy, but the lack of dry, bloodless ethnomusicological texts was welcome (these are artists, after all, not study specimens). With this new Yaala Yaala disc, Cullen Strawn steps up for brief, clearly written liner notes, and the audio quality is bumped up a notch, while still maintaining a fidelity that’s true to the rough, improvised, elemental music performed by Sidibe and his crew.
Like much of the music on first three records on Yaala Yaala (Pekos/Yoro Diallo, Daouda Dembele, and the Bougoni Yaalali compilation), Sidibe’s album works in cyclical modes, doggedly pursuing the hypnotic realm through incessant repetition over extended periods – two of these three untitled tracks breeze past the twenty-minute mark; the final’s just shy of that number. As a donso ngonifòla, or hunters’ musician, Sidibe’s mantric songs justify their length not just through their articulation of ‘epics of hunter heroes… [and] more recent historical figures,’ but through the very nature of their musical material – any less and their impact would be diminished. The riffs Sidibe sends sailing from his donso ngoni (‘six-stringed spike harp’) are only fully extrapolated when the compositions’ duration allows for flourishes, where a groove will suddenly explode in a honeycomb flurry of extra notes, the gruffness of the donso ngoni’s metal rattle shuddering across the riffs.
Accompanied by apprentices, one of whom plays metal scraper (or ngèrènyèn) with all the dogged insistence of Tommy Hall’s electric jug in the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Sidibe’s songs are wildly psychedelic things, in one of the word’s original senses – not a genre, but a phase of temporal/mental alteration. And his voice is just great, a thick, beautiful thing that sometimes crackles with humor as it passes through notes, or sets forth glossolalic flows. But it’s the donso ngoni that does the most damage, its incessant pulse like a white stream of light gently, benignly burrowing into your skull. Glorious, glorious stuff.