By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
The album opens with a Taj Mahal favorite, the venerable "Queen Bee," but it is not Mahal who opens the singing. Instead a rising Malian star, Ramata Diakité, takes the lead on top of the intertwined kora and guitar, creating her own melody and original lyrics. As the tune rolls along, Mahal and Diakité mesh their separate melodies and lyrics to make one symbiotic song. It's exquisite.
"Tunkaranke" follows with the entrance of Kassemady Diabaté, certainly one of the finest Mandingo singers of them all. The Malian tune is slowed dramatically to achieve a rural blues pace, and Kassemady is all the more impressive for being able to adapt his vocals to the languid rhythm. Indeed, his singing is a delight throughout the disc. Another highlight is the rollicking piano/balafon mixup with Mahal and Kassemady trading verses, and truly getting down on "Fanta."
Maybe the wonder of this fine release has something to do with the production methods used to record it. Stick a gaggle of open-minded musicians in a house, leave them alone, and odds are they will end up communicating, no matter if they share a musical language. Along those lines, Mahal and the West Africans moved into an Athens, Georgia, house/studio, and after a few days of eating and breathing music together, they recorded. A witness described that period as having magic in the air, and said the music just flowed. Part of that magic is ably captured on Kulanjan.