Pekos/Yoro Diallo - Pekos/Yoro Diallo (Yaala Yaala CD)
All right. Looks like another label has cropped up in recent days to help Alan Bishop shoulder the burden of robbing the brown man blind! Ahahaha just kidding. Really though, I'm not going to touch that little moral dilemma with a yardstick, primarily because I'm far too apathetic to actually form a "stance" on it. I'll assume that neither Pekos nor Yoro Diallo are getting any cash back on this disc, but then in the same light I'll also assume that Jack Carneal and his Yaala Yaala cohorts aren't reaping much of a profit either. Let's just say it's all about the music and remain happier, for that. This is the first release on the label, with a name derived from what Bougounian musicians would reply to the question "ça va?" (according to Carneal, it means "just wandering"). Indeed, this first release was culled from a market in Bougouni where Carneal resides, and the other two are equally Mali-centric: a compilation of anonymous artists ("Bougouni Yaalali") and a disc from Daouda Dembele (who, like Yoro Diallo, I first discovered via the awesome Awesome Tapes from Africa blog.
Only a brief descripto is included with the album, and none of it talks about who Pekos or Yoro Diallo are. All it sez is that Carneal picked this tape up from a vendor in Kolondieba, an electricityless village two hours from Bougouni, and that it was "probably recorded on a boombox sometime in 1998 or '99". Which is good because everybody knows that the new Pekos is just wanky prog bullshit in lieu of actual songwriting. That was a joke. Anyway looks like Carneal himself doesn't even know if any of the above is true, adding that Bougounians are generally skeptical of verification. No idea what the hell that means but he's the guy who's been living in Mali the past eight years, not me, so I'll take his word for it. Anyway it's a collaboration (not a split) between the two, each man contributing vocals and playing electrified ngonis, which are explained thusly: "ngonis are large spike lutes; a four to five foot length of wood or reed is jammed into a hollowed out gourd and strings, often fishing line, are connected from a bridge at the base of the instrument to the end of the neck." There's also a continuous stream of percussion on the four tracks here, provided by someone (or someones) other than the two featured players. The duo sermonize across surely much more than the hour-long chunk provided here, but the four tracks that made up the cassette (and make up this CD) are more than enough meat to chew on till their next outing is stumbled upon and haggled over. The first track clocks in at an all-too-brief 14 minutes, and is remarkably effective in its simplicity: sloppy percussion strikes and a pulsing ngoni crackle (something of a cross between Konono No. 1's thumb pianos and an electric guitar, to my decidedly untrained ears) and form an amazing, almost bluesy lope. It's the kind of irresistably catchy rhythm that would be fine enough on its own, but the singing exchanges between Pekos (the raspier, somewhat calmer voice) and Diallo (the booming, commanding voice that often cuts off Pekos') really lift the track into a whole new place of untold glories. Diallo in particular hits on a constant melody every time he opens his mouth and it just has to be heard to be appreciated. No idea what these two are singing about, but the info I found suggests the two are probably being egged on via small monetary donations "to sing about how great Coulibaly is, Sidibe is, what a strong man Traore is, etc." Not sure I really care to find out what's being said though, you gotta be the Tin Man to not feel this. The second track is shorter and a bit of a down in terms of energy, with plodding percussio and one endlessly scraped ngoni. The other, however, offers up some interesting free improv scramble, usually at the most unexpected moments. Diallo and Pekos sound almost like they're riffing back and forth when they sing, lending an even more slothful air to an already sluggish, sun-scorched affair. Track three is very similar to the first, with a languid, gently galloping percussion/ngoni rhythm (given an odd, almost banjo-like flair here) periodically torn up by an almost call-and-response interplay between the two men. Diallo again is almost alamringly fierce with the way his voice cuts in from seemingly out of nowhere only to disappear just as fast. The latter portions of the track feature some of the wildest ngoni flurries yet, much to the delight of the small but appreciative crowd. The last cut is a massive 20-minute slab, as slow and as quiet as anything yet but also as fucked - dig the enormous feedback riptides that pour through and hiss in the background. This track sees Diallo take a step back and leave the lion's share of the speaking/singing to Pekos (who also seems to banter a bit with the crowd). Perhaps then it's Diallo who's responsible for the lovely flourishes from the makeshift instrument he wields, easily some of the most fully-formed and cleanly executed strokes of the whole set (reminding slightly of Tetuzi Akiyama's boogie work for electric guitar). A couple sections see the song turned over to various scrawls of the instrument, both solo and in duet, while others see still more furious shouting as the tune crawls its way almost subliminally to an ecstatic climax that's cut just short before any true catharsis can be heard...but that isn't to say there aren't revelations found all over the rest of the disc. It is worth noting however that the sound quality is far from pristine (which is definitely a good thing) - a couple of sound dropouts here and there due to the original cassette and just a general lo-fi, dirty sound won't please the tympanic membrane of stuffy musicologist types, but I don't think you fit that bill anyhows.
My lack of applicable knowledge of West African music betrays me from being able to draw any valuable comparisons but it sounds great to my ears and that's the only litmus test worth a hoot, to me. Needless to say if you've enjoyed what's been exported recently from the likes of Sublime Frequencies and the Crammed Discs label, you owe it to yourself to check out this one. I know as soon as I get a chance I'm picking up the other two jammers from Yaala Yaala, and eagerly looking forward to whatever else they're bringing over from the Malian markets. And how about that cover?
Click here to listen to MP3 samples from the above album