This isn’t the place to debate the African origin of the blues. All we really need note is that modern African music is alive with its sound; we can leave the precise details of its journey across the trade routes of the Atlantic to the ethno-musicologists.
Compiler Phil Meadley has done a good job in representing the spread of African blues from Ethiopia to Mali, via such outposts as Madagascar and Mauritius. In doing so, he stretches the definition of African blues to include the stately classical kora duets of Ballake Sissoko and Toumani Diabate, the Afro-Brazillian soind of Bonga (whose ‘Mona Ki Ngi Xica’ sounds like an Angolan cousin of Buena Vista’s theme tune ‘Chan Chan’) the jazz torch-singing of Guinea’s Sia Tolno and the Eithiopian funk of Tlahoun Gessesse. All this shows a fine disregard for pigeonholing and an admirable understanding of how different styles can cross-fertilise and inform each other. Along the way , there are some wonderful choices from the Malian songbird Rokia Traore, fusion kings Dub Colossus and the Touareg guitar band Terakaft among the 36 tracks.
There are two criticisms, though – one which was beyond the control of the label and compiler and the other which wasn’t. Theres nothing from the best-known giants of the genre such as Ali Farka Toure (although he guests on a couple of the tracks by other artists), Tinariwen and Amadou & Mariam. That’s down to licensing issues and couldn’t be helped. Bu the bizarre ‘theming’ of the three discs could.
The first CD couples Senegal and Mali together, but doesn’t include the Gambia, despite its shared mande roots. Instead, Gambia gets shunted into an inexplicable conglomeration called ‘West Africa, Centrral Africa and the Island Nations’. Eithopian music and the Touaregs get banded together on a third disc. They might have been better advised simply to sequence the tracks with nothing more in mind than to please the ear, as a DJ would, rather than group them into bogus categories.