Sunday, September 15, 2013

Habib Koite & Eric Bibb: Brothers in Bamako Album Review

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the February 21, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Eric Bibb and Habib Koite´ – Brothers in Bamako

Stony Plain Records &

13 tracks / 52:32

We have all seen plenty of established musicians collaborate with each other to create new art, but few of them go to the lengths that Eric Bibb and Habib Koite´ went to for their new CD, Brothers in Bamako. You see, Eric and Habib are both singers and guitarists, but they come from opposite sides of the world, and despite their diverse circumstances they were still able to put together a very pretty project.

Eric Bibb was born in New York into a musical family; he got his first guitar at the age of seven and started playing in his father’s show at sixteen. After deciding that college was not for him, he split for Paris and ended up touring the world with his band. He has released over thirty of his own albums, and has appeared on countless others. Eric has earned the respect of his peers and has received numerous awards for his blues work, including a Grammy nomination.

Habib Koite´ was also born into a musical family, but this time in Senegal, and he received formal musical training from the Bamako National Institute of the Arts in Mali. He started the West African super-group Bamada in 1988, and since then they have performed throughout Europe and North America. He has performed with many fine artists, including one of my favorites, Bonnie Raitt.

Koite´ met Bibb when they were both asked to play songs on the 1999 Mali to Memphis album, which also includes great tracks from John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. Eric and Habib became friends and exchanged ideas, and finally got together last year in Bamako, Mali to record Brothers in Bamako. This thirteen track effort includes original songs from each of them, a few Mali traditionals, and an unexpected cover tune. Both men provided vocals, guitar, banjo and ukulele parts, and they were joined by Mamadou Kone on percussion.

There is a little bit of everything on this album, but even with the different genres that are used there is a consistently calm and soothing vibe to the material. The first few tracks provide each man’s view of the world the other lives in. Bibb wrote and sang “On My Way to Bamako” which has simple lyrics and an island feel to it, while Koite´ provided his impressions of the City of Angels in “L.A.” which is not in English except for his repeated expression of his love for tequila. The liner notes are in French, so I cannot help out with the meaning on this one. But in this case the lyrics are secondary to the music. Both songs are layered with different types of guitars and guitar-like stringed instruments, and that is where the joy of listening to this album comes from.

The duo also recorded a pair of songs that bring social commentary to the forefront. “We Don’t Care” is a Bibb original that pokes at class differences and social hypocrisy, while an undercurrent of guitar stylings noodles unobtrusively below. Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” was also included, and I like what Koite´ and Bibb did with it. The raw framework of banjo is perfect for this mournful tune, and Olli Haavisto added a tasteful pedal steel guitar to the mix. These songs are particularly poignant when one considers the turmoil that the people of Northern Mali have gone through in the past year.

Overall this is a world folk music album, but it does have blues moments, which is not surprising as Eric has a heavy blues and gospel background. “With My Maker I Am One” has a blues base with slickly-played guitars and a single shaker for percussion. It is a bare bones song that Bibb wrote to show that despite our differences we are all the same when an eternal viewpoint is taken. “Send Us Brighter Days” is a slow-paced duet in English and French that has country underpinnings with a blues overlay. And then there is “Goin’ down the Road Feelin’ Bad” which is a traditional that has been recorded by many artists; you may be familiar with the Earl Scruggs or the Grateful Dead versions. This one has Bibb on vocals with clever banjo picking and a smooth guitar solo that plays well off the lyrics. A 30-second guitar outro finishes off this final track on the CD.

Brothers in Bamako is hard to classify and is certainly not mainstream, but you can always count on Habib Koite´ and Eric Bibb to turn in a solid performance. Their voices and guitars work so well together, that at times it seems like they are twins that were separated at birth. If you are fans of either of these musicians, this album is a must listen!


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