Nahawa Doumbia has been one of Mali's most uniquely passionate singer-composers since the 1980s. As she is from the Fula tribe, she is unfettered by the praise-singing conventions of the Jeli (hereditary musician) caste, and her lyrics address more universal human concerns like loneliness, taking pride in one's work, educating the young, food gathering, and making peace with the inevitability of death. On Yaala ("Work") the bottom-heavy urgency of the arrangements are midway between the spare acoustic settings of her earliest releases and the razzle-dazzle Paris-session fiestas of the late '80s. The pentatonic (five-tone) scales seethe and rock, and French guitarist Claude Barthélémy manages to be a full collaborator without intruding; his riffs slither amid resonant wooden xylophones, chesty a cappella choirs, liquid flutes, and rattling percussion like a jewel-toned serpent. But the overwhelming presence on the set is Doumbia's clarionlike voice and increasingly iconic presence, which has attained an extraordinary spike of primal power and technical aplomb. Her phrasing is seemingly offhand yet flawlessly ornamented, and her grasp of light and shade, matter and the immaterial, has never been more subtly focused. --Christina Roden
This is a robust, earthy set of traditional Malian chants arranged with an ear for Afro-pop. A balafon meanders; djembes throb and thump; guitars spiral and slide; a flute leaps above the shifting textures, and Nahawa Doumbia cries out to praise hard workers, confront death, beseech the sacred boa and warn against a coming tornado. The music as solid and grand as the giant forest trees that Doumbia poses against the tornado, asking them to "hang on to the young plants." -- From Rhythm Magazine
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Top Customer Reviews
Doumbia's music, just like that of the great singer Oumou Sangare, comes from the Wassoulou region. Neither she nor it have anything to do with the Fula peoples: she doesn't sing in any of their language dialects, she doesn't sing in their styles, and she certainly doesn't belong to their "tribe." So if anyone was expecting "Yaala" to sound like Fula/Pulaar music from Senegal or Fula/Fulfulde music from Mali or Niger, be disabused of that notion. It sounds more like Oumou Sangare.
Finally, the term "Yaala" refers not to work but travel. Malians, particularly the menfolk, have an established tradition of migrating here and there temporarily in search of wage labor. "Yaala" generally denotes this migration. Perhaps Roden was misled by the liner notes here? (Okay, none of this might help potential buyers judge the CD any better, but I didn't want to let the reviewer's mistakes pass unnoticed.)
As for the recording itself, it seems a bit of a stylistic departure from her previous efforts (notably with the inclusion of guitare and flute). But as I have said elsewhere, there's plenty of better material if you're looking for groovy African music.