29/09/2023Legendary Malian Artist Idrissa Soumaoro Celebrates Musical Homecoming On Third Album

"Diré" is a town on the left bank of the Niger river in the 333 Saints of Timbuktu region of northern Mali. It is there that the legendary Malian singer-songwriter, guitarist and master of the kamalen n'goni Idrissa Soumaoro met his wife and where his late first daughter was born. It also happens to be the title to his long-awaited and recently released third full-length that has been a long time in the making, maybe even a lifetime. Initiated by Marc-Antoine 'Marco' Moreau (former producer and manager of Amadou & Mariam) in 2012, Idrissa Soumaoro began recording for the album at Bamako's Studio Manjul. However, work on the album came to a halt when Moreau suddenly passed in 2017. Then the global pandemic hit and further delayed the album's completion, before arrangements and orchestrations were finally finalised in France alongside Amadou & Mariam's Climax Orchestra. 

Long story short, good things come to those who wait and we dare say, that in this particular case, time was not of the essence. Despite being an absolute "force on the Malian music scene" – who was "awarded the title of Chevalier de l'Ordre national du Mali for his contribution to Malian culture and music" – Idrissa Soumaoro "has devoted his life to helping others by becoming a music teacher for the blind" and that in itself speaks volumes. His latest album brings us "ten highly original compositions" rooted in traditional Malian music yet introducing many more influences to the mix. One might say that "Diré" is the musical culmination of Soumaoro's life experiences and storied career: "My inspiration generally comes from the donso n'goni, a Bambara instrument played by and for hunters throughout Mali. This is a pentatonic instrument, similar to the blues exported to the Americas by black African slaves. I've also spent so much time playing a variety of music that my music also reflects [such as] rumba, salsa (as well as Bamanan blues and a few derivatives: jazz, country, soul, rhythm and blues) etc. I have looked for and hope to have found my own form of expression from these influences," he describes. 

Released at a time when his native Mali faces serious challenges, "Diré" to Soumaoro is not just a nostalgic homecoming tribute, but also a powerful statement presented in a strong, crystal-clear voice with lyrics in French, Bambara and English. It commemorates a Mali that was still in tact and at peace, while reassuring listeners that hope always remains. Sonically, "Diré" is pure bliss, brimming with emotion, soothing instrumentation and intricate stylings. There is an undeniable maturity inherent to each of the songs, tying them together one by one, revealing a true master at work. It is an album that you can have quietly strumming away in the background and also one that you can really hone in on, listening intently to every minute detail and melodic twist and turn, nodding in awe and approval. Soumaoro and his supporting cast impressively demonstrate that in some cases humility does come with greatness after all.

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom