edited review from Ryan Thomas Skinner:
Bush Taxi Mali: Field Recordings from Mali (2004, recorded and assembled by Tucker Martine, Sublime Frequencies CD, SF012)
Listening, we hear tired footsteps shuffling over sand and gravel amid the chirping, cooing, and crowing of crickets, pigeons, and roosters. Then we notice the sounds of a mande lute (ngoni) and xylophone (bala) lightly exploring their registers before locking into an accompaniment. Behind them, only the crickets remain. This is how Tucker Martine’s evocative collection of West African field recordings, Bush Taxi Mali, begins.
The album represents Martine’s aural encounter with Mali, a landlocked sub- Saharan country that is home to a wide array of acoustic and electric music traditions, a handful of which are featured on the disc’s fourteen tracks. Yet, Bush Taxi Mali is more than a generic compilation of Malian music; it is also an exploration of the sounds that texture everyday life in Mali.
In “Mopti Niger Walking,” we follow Martine on an afternoon stroll through a raucous riverine marketplace, a wandering that gently fades into the contrapuntal string duet, “Segou,” a version of the classic Mande hunter’s praise song “Kulanjan.” (A later track titled “Kaira” is actually the Mande griot standard “kayira.”) Here, Martine suggests the significant role that sound (musical or otherwise) plays in structuring a sense of place.
Elsewhere, he evokes sound’s equal capacity to displace, momentarily setting the listener adrift in anonymous spaces of auditory possibility. This is most apparent in “Bambaran Wedding celebration” where distorted song and amplified feedback mix with a cacophony of drums, only to give way to a full minute of eerie, almost otherworldly sounds (likely rendered in the studio), conveying the raw acoustic shadow of the outdoor festivities Martine observes.
On track 2, “Radio Bamako,” Martine offers the listener a taste of Mali’s low- fidelity urban airwaves. Track 3 features a solo performance on the banjo-like ngoni in the southern town of Kéla. Track 4, “Fouta Djallon,” is a reference to Guinea’s Fulbe heartland, Fuuta Jalloo; here Martine travels north to Mopti, where he captures the haunting melodies of the Fulbe lute or tambin. Back in Kéla on track 5, “Autorail” presents the voice of Aminata Diabaté singing a lover’s lament in the Mande griot style (jeliya).
And so the CD unfolds. The resulting pastiche is an eloquent compilation of storied moments—each personably related by Martine in the liner notes—that still manage to tell a traveler’s tale as a whole.