Washington, DC — Album titles can be misleading, especially when they claim to describe a “best of” or “definitive collection” of something as subjective and personal as music. This album, however, is true to its title. Listeners new to the blues (African blues) and well-seasoned ones alike will agree that A Rough Guide To African Blues is an apt description.
The 14 tracks here range from pieces one would expect to hear in a Chicago blues bar or in the Mississippi Delta to those that can be heard only in Africa. The album thus serves as a microcosm of the blues, from its origins in West Africa to its acoustic inception in the American Deep South, to its maturity in the great northern American industrial cities, and finally back to Africa where it has been tweaked yet again.
Fans of the blues should like A Rough Guide. Songs range from those reminiscent of the simple, yet melodious guitars of Mississippi John Hurt and Taj Mahal to the electric blues of Muddy Waters. That is not to say, however, that the album is a mere collection of Africans imitating American blues musicians. Almost every song has an authentic African element, usually including hand drums and other indigenous instruments. Furthermore, some songs take an almost bizarre twist on the blues. One uses a Bossa Nova-esque rhythm, while another, incorporating a mandolin, sounds like a Celtic folk song.
Overall, the album deserves a B. Most of the songs are thoroughly entertaining. The only objection I have is that the songs are not arranged in a coherent order and as a result the album does not flow as well as it could.
The listener who will benefit most from this album is one who enjoys the blues and is eager to hear a different take on the genre. For such buyers, A Rough Guide to African Blues will open a portal to a world they may have not thought existed.
Included Artists: Mariem Hassan, Nuru Kane, Corey Harris, Boubacar Traore, Oumou Sangare, Etran Finatawa, Afel Bokoum, Rokia Traore, Ayalew Mesfin & Black Lion Band, Djelimady Tounkara, Bob Brozman & Djeli Moussa Diawara, Rasha ,Daby Balde, and Baaba Maal & Mansour Seck
Walker Ristau is an intern with allAfrica.com. He has a BA from the University of Iowa, in Iowa City and his education has included Asian (Chinese) and African studies.