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Afel Bocoum: Alkibar

A very different ilk of cultural cross-talk goes on with the music of Afel Bocoum, whose debut, Alkibar (World Circuit/Nonesuch 79567; 61:02), is guitar-based country blues goes to Mali. If that description evokes the modus operandi of Ali Farke Toure, it’s no coincidence: Bocoum has been a protege and bandmate of Toure’s for some 30 years. He sings, in a soothingly rough-edged voice, in his native Sonrai language. He sings, of social and emotional issues, over his group Alkibar’s bubbling foundation of guitar finger picking, the one-string fiddle called the njarka, a lute called a njurkle, percussion instruments, the calabash and the djembe, along with female background vocals. Bocoum, who has also been a farmer along the Niger river concurrent with his life as a musician, creates a rich, rolling sound, earthy and sweet and untainted by pretensions.

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