Thursday, July 4, 2013

Alhaji Bai Konte — Kora Melodies from the Republic of The Gambia, West Africa (1973)

Rounder Records first foray into African music came with this record, released in 1973 to coincide with Bai Konte's concert tour, thought to be the premier solo kora performances in North America. A respected kora master in his own country, this recording, made by Marc Pevar, caught Konte at the peak of his career, a short decade before his death.

Most of the songs on the album draw from the traditional repertoire, but there also are a couple of short Konte originals. Though the sleeve notes give few details about the recordings, they appear to have been made primarily in a home setting; crickets can be heard on a few tracks. One praise song is performed by the Konte family for a benefactor, possibly in that person's compound. Reading the sleeve notes, which I recommend (included in the download folder), makes one realize how tentative its release was: Song notes try to relate the music to other, more familiar music already available in record shops, like flamenco and blues, foreshadowing the "world music" marketing push that occurred a decade later.

I present this historic and enjoyable album to offer some peace, in contrast with the patriotic hype that permeates this weekend (and era).
Here is a lovely tribute film, also done by Marc Pevar, which gives much information about this seminal musician and his culture. If you go to the actual YouTube page, Pevar discusses Konte's time in the U$ in detail.