In the 1980s, I used to make pilgrimages to West Africa and return with piles of cassettes bought in street markets – everything from the latest hits by big local stars like Youssou N’Dour to intriguing-looking impulse buys, mostly bootlegs, by wild bands like National Badema, Mori Djeli De Kankan and Super Djata, the latter of whom would eventually show up in London and fry us with blindingly exciting gigs. At the same time we were discovering the rawer roots of Congolese music – Zaiko Langa Langa, Bavon Marie Marie and so forth – and pretty much overnight, most Western rock bands sounded deadly dull by comparison with their leaden, four-square drumming and risible lead guitar posturing. I never really recovered.
But inevitably, Western interest and slick Parisian production influence filtered down, and the ubiquitous global culture-flattening of rap and reggae reached into most corners. It seemed likely that all the really raw, wild local stuff was pretty much gone for good.
We reckoned without the Songhai, Fulani, Hausa and Tuareg musicians who have coalesced in dusty Niamey, Niger, in the ranks of Tal National (see fR389). It’s as if those classic big Malian electric bands of yesteryear are reborn with fresh energy.
Stick this new CD – their third – into the player, crank up the second track Belles Reines, and tell me when you last heard anything so exciting on a new release. Whiplash sharp, distorted electric guitars riffing like their lives depend on it, bouncing bass, layers of ferociously hit percussion, propulsive keyboards and manic shouty singing. It takes you by an arm and swings you around its head. There needs to be an adjective for a level that goes above exhilarating like this! And it continues like that. There are marginally slower tracks like Duniya or Trankil where the desire by listeners to engage in injury-threatening idiot-dancing is temporarily replaced by an urgent lope, but then that guitarist cranks up again…
The press release says they self-describe as a ‘rock band’. Don’t be silly. Even the extremes of raw rockabilly sound like wet fart pantywaist ninnies by comparison. Punk? Nah! I’m quite sure the heroic Joe Strummer would be genuflecting to tracks like Akokass.
Probably should come with a health warning. Though being prescribed by the NHS as a cure for indolence and depression might be equally appropriate.