For the uninitiated kora equates to a cross between a harp and a lute, the griot equates a combination of poet, musician and storyteller who maintains the oral tradition while the balafon equates to a xylophone.

While the material is split roughly fifty-fifty between Africa and Cuba, the predominant vibe is West African, with Cuban nuances added to the African material while the African elements weave their way into Cuban classics like Guantanamera. It's a case of one side playing their own music and the other side figuring out a way to fit in, so it's a genuine fusion of two not quite disparate elements, since there's a strong African influence in Cuban music which was then re-exported back to revolutionary Africa.

Toumani Diabaté claims the writing credit for the opening track, Mali Cuba, loosely based around the familiar Guantanamera with the kora tinkling away as the balafon lays out the melody and Latin brass adds a touch of the Caribbean. 

That's followed by Eliades Ochoa on vocals for Al Vaivén De Mi Carreta (The Swaying Of My Cart), the first track actually recorded for the album. Half way through griot Kasse-Mady Diabaté takes over the vocal, and the griot territory continues through Karamo (The Hunter) delivered with a Latin lilt. 

Guitarist Djelimady Tounkara leader of the Rail Band guides the ensemble through Djelimady Rumba, and he's back to the fore on La Culebra (The Snake) a Cuban afroson dating back to the thirties.

Jarabi (Passion) goes almost as far back, advocating romantic passion ahead of arranged marriage. It's apparently a popular item in the griot repertoire, but, again, the Cuban influence slots in comfortably with the African elements. Latin lilt strikes again.

Eliades Ochoa recorded the instrumental interlude Eliades Tumbao 27 in a break from group recording (I'm assuming the 27 has some significance there) before the percussion-heavy Dakan and the balafon-driven Nima Diyala (I Beg You My Sweetheart) where the message is to maintain personal relationships with dignity. It was, according to the digital booklet, a popular piece with West African dance bands in the seventies and features Lassana Diabate playing simultaneous balafons (with the second filling the role of the black keys on the piano).

A la luna yo me voy (I'm going to the Moon), a Haitian merengue written by Ochoa, expressing concerns about global warming is followed by Mariama, a studio jam involving Ochoa and Bassekou Kouyate with lyrics from a traditional song about destiny

Para Los Pinares Se Va Montoro (Montoro’s Going To Los Pinares) a Compay Segundo son from the 1950s has some fine guitar work from Eliades and Djelimady, Benséma (Chance) runs a Cuban guitar riff through a Malian reflection just how much of life is up to what I've been known to refer to as dumb luck and proceedings close with a languid ngoni, guitar and kora exposition of the Guantanamera theme that kicked off Mali Cuba. 

Afrocubism gives an almost seamless journey through a number of African and Cuban elements, and there's a chemistry there that could point the way for similar collaborations in the future.

If it does, I'll be buying...

© Ian Hughes 2012