Reviewing music from the ‘World Music’ category is difficult. You’re challenged by fact that the lyrics to the songs are sung in a language other than English and therefore you lose the chance to write about the words and the stories within these songs. But, as a result, you’re challenged to listen to the music in a different way.
On the surface ‘Kuma’ is a straight-forward album that follows a sensible recipe of having songs created around three tools; Mark Mullholland’s guitar, Olaf Hund’s rhythmic patterns and singer Kankou Kouyate’s voice. These are the ingredients for the album and it works. There is enough variation within these three musicians to keep the listener engaged for the ten songs.
Mullholland is a Scottish producer and musician and it’s clear he knows how to get what he wants for individual songs, he works in interesting guitar parts that comes from a rock and folk background, adds this to Frenchman Hund’s drum patterns and allows the rich vocal to do its job. It’s a sound coherent, spacious and uncluttered, with just the right amount of electronic blips and beeps to keep things ticking along.
The treasure of the music is Kankou’s voice, at times rich and powerful and at others vulnerable and engaging, it feels effortless for her to sing and she manages to use her voice as an instrument (important when the lyrics are a mystery to non-speakers of Hausa) that reinforces the music.
I’ve listened to this album a few times now and I feel there is something really rather good going on, considering this is the work of just four musicians (Vincent Bucher adds harmonica to a couple of tracks) it’s impressive.