05/05/2023Bamako-Based 'Gao Rap' Producer Babsy Konate Drops Versatile Debut Solo Album On Sahel Sounds

Who would've thought that autotune could sound this good? While browsing our personal list of potential current releases to review, we stumbled upon the extraordinary artwork gracing Babsy Konate's new ten-tracker on Sahel Sounds and had to know more. According to the release notes, Baba "Babsy" Konate is a DIY producer hailing from the north-eastern Malian city of Gao, situated on the edge of the Saharan desert, who is at the forefront of Gao rap, "a regional genre of modern autotuned Songhai music."

After appearing on Sahel Sounds' 2018-released "Gao Rap - Hip Hop from Northern Mali" compilation, "'Tounga' is the first release of the artist’s solo work, gathering a decade of tracks that merge sweet autotuned vocals, crunchy drum loops and plucked digital harpsichord, in a playful testament to early 2000s PC music, with the sample packs of a modest FruityLoops project. The result is familiar yet otherworldly, drawing from an abundance of distinct cultural expression: folkloric takamba from the Songhai, Hausa film soundtracks from Northern Nigeria, hip hop from Bamako and ragga from Niamey." 

Over the years, having mastered the art of production with a little help from his brother, the guitarist Oumar Konate, Babsy attracted countless rappers to his mobile, ephemeral studio setups, where he "[forged] a style" that "soon became synonymous with the regional style of modern Gao music" and pointed in "a new direction for Songhai music" overall.  His productions (as well as the aforementioned artwork) may strike first-time listeners as "hyper kitsch", but rest assured his soulfully synthetic and insanely catchy soundscapes will be quick to grow on you with their free-form nonchalance, creative zest, raw aesthetic and ethereal vibe, spanning "love ballads, praise songs and [earnest] advice" on everyday matters. Would love to hear these tunes bumping in convertibles and wreaking dancehall havoc across Europe this summer. Just putting that out there. Stream "Tounga" in full below. 

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom