Amadou Balaké: In Conclusion | Album Review
Born Amadou Traoré in Burkina Faso in 1944 and renamed by fans in honour of his rendition of the Mandé classic Balaké, Amadou had a distinguished 50-year musical career. He was a journeyman musician, comfortable in many styles, who performed and recorded in Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea and the Ivory Coast through the 1960s and 1970s, as well as fronting a number of bands back in Ouagadougou.
His repertoire ranged from the local ‘warba’ dance rhythms to the modernised Mandé music associated with Bembeya Jazz and the Rail Band, to the emerging funk and afrobeat styles, and also included the Afro-Cuban genre, widely popular across west and central Africa.
In 1979 his travels took him to New York, where he made a salsa album with top Latin session musicians. This prescient move was to bring him international fame later when top African producer Ibrahima Sylla invited him to join the transatlantic salsa supergroup, Africando.
Balaké made four albums with Africando and travelled widely, but for most of the last 25 years he was back in Burkina Faso, performing regularly in the capital up until his death almost exactly a year ago.
This posthumous release, recorded mostly live in the studio in 2013, is a masterly and well-rounded tour of his African repertoire. The Burkinabé warba rhythm can be heard on Naaba, while Massa Kamba is a sauntering afrobeat with horns and rippling balafon and Fanta is an afro-funk work-out.
Downtempo numbers include praise song Lamizana, the aforementioned Balaké (which, surprisingly, he had never before recorded) and a swaying heartfelt blues finale in Yéllé.
In excellent voice and superbly accompanied by an eight-piece band and backing chorus, including old friends reunited and sharp young whippersnappers – Papa Djiga on ngoni being particularly notable – this is a fine testament to Burkina Faso’s greatest popular singer.