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Damon Albarn, Afel Bocoum & Friends

Mali Music (Honest Jon's/Astralwerks)

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Before delving into the musical contents of Mali Music, a bit of background information: Mali is a small country in West Africa, home of one of the world's most fascinating music cultures. Damon Albarn is a British musician famous for being the frontman of Blur and Gorillaz. Mali Music is the result of Albarn's eight-day journey to Mali, where he recorded hours of material with local musicians -- among them singer/guitarist Afel Bocoum, kora player Toumani Diabanté, and griot singer Kasse Mady -- then brought the material home to England to feed into his computer. Okay, got it?

Hope so, because Mali Music is an amazing musical experience. Far from being a naive field recording by a British cultural imperialist, trying his best to keep up gamely with some of Mali's best traditional and contemporary musicians, Mali Music fuses Albarn's modern sampling, looping, and dubbing techniques with the sounds of master musicians playing instruments that have existed for centuries. The 16 songs here work together to create an atmospheric blend of world music and chilled-out Western electronic styles that should appeal equally to seasoned world-music vets, dope-smoking club kids, and anyone in between whose ears and mind are open. Those expecting Paul Simon's Graceland or even Buena Vista Social Club will be sorely disappointed, but they'll be infinitely the better for it.

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