Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Sorry Bamba: Volume One 1970-1979 [Thrill Jockey, 2011]
Before there was a Rail Band, this nobly born singer-trumpeter-flutist led a dance troupe and a musical ensemble in the provincial Malian city of Mopti. The Rail Band was more elegant and complex--Bamba was no Salif Keita or Mory Kante vocally, and when Rail Band stalwart Kanté Manfila steps up for a track here, the delicacy of his guitar technique makes for a nice change. Bamba doesn't put forth a consistent sound. He was in show business, and though his core audience was more provincial than the travelers who came through Bamako station, they liked having clave and Ethiopian horns and baby-got-back mixed in with their griot-approved staples. But that's a positive--fun, really. Combined with amenities only Bamba could provide--his trumpet, his flute, his specialty in Dogon culture, and most spectacularly a thousand-year-old showpiece featuring an impossible hectoring chant for a long-departed emir--the groove that asserts itself has crude satisfactions all its own. A-