American singer/guitarist Eric Bibb and West African singer/guitarist Habib Koité have come together for Brothers in Bamako. It is an exciting gumbo of the two artists’ influences of blues, folk, gospel and world music.
The 13 tracks on Brothers in Bamako showcase songs penned by each artist, as well as several written together, plus a fascinating cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and the traditional blues, “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad.” The new CD represents a musical crossroads of Bibb’s blues, folk and gospel influences, blended with Koité’s contemporary West African folk/world roots into a unique mixture of voices and guitars that is both passionate and ebullient.
“I watched my parents and it rubbed off on me,” says Habib Koité in the album’s liner notes, as he traces the origins of his profession and talent as a musician. Habib is the heir to an ancestral knowledge set to song that places him among the most influential voices of contemporary Africa. Eric Bibb has established his name in the new generation of bluesmen without renouncing the legacy of folk and gospel. The result is an organic meeting of Malian/African sounds and American folk/blues/gospel traditional music, creating a unique blend of world-folk-blues.
Habib and Eric first met 10 years ago, when both were invited to play on the album Mali to Memphis(Putumayo). They struck a chord, exchanged a few notes, then a few songs. A connection was established, friendship followed. Both recognized that blues has its roots in Africa. The dialogue continued and a follow-up meeting launched the project that would becomeBrothers in Bamako.
When Bibb and Koité sat down to begin recording the new album, any geographical or cultural differences vanished, and what was left was two artists with their own particular backgrounds, but with a similar vision arriving at a common ground that joined their music as one. Leon Bibb, Eric’s father, who associated just as much with Paul Robeson as Pete Seeger, celebrated the popular origins of these songs. Habib balances the subtle nuances of West African guitar playing and its abundant musical styles. He studied music at the National Arts Institute in Bamako, which allowed him to fuse this musical education into a unique approach where his cultural roots are just one element in service of his ideas. Both men draw on the organic material of tradition and the numerous world realities that demand their comment, to release a sung vision, a musical cry of hope.
“We probably play the same role,” says Eric. A relationship does exist between their individual approaches. An American singer who evolves from blues and folk could be seen as the logical extension of an African griot. But both men are contemporary singers, not copies of a tradition that could become stagnant.
Habib sings about his era, his environment. He lives, breathes and sings Africa, but an altered Africa, transformed by the rest of the world. Eric is receptive to this approach. And without consciously deciding, songs with a social message emerge. In the album’s opening track, “On My Way to Bamako,” Eric shares his feelings about his first visit to Mali and Habib returns the favor on the aptly-titled next song, “L.A.”; and worries about what’s waiting in Timbuktu on “Tombouctou.” The two also create a deft take on the global commercialism of today in “We Don’t Care.” (“We want the gold, as long as we don’t have to mine it; Don’t care who suffers or who’s behind it.”).
throughout Brothers in Bamako, Eric Bibb and Habib Koité prove with great talent that the simplest song is often the most effective and that singing as they do is a universal necessity.