DJ Khalab & Baba Sissoko

DJ Khalab & Baba Sissoko

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“Kumu” is one of the many highlights from last year’s collaboration between Italian Afro-Futurist beatmaker DJ Khalab (not to be confused with Snapchat motivational speaker DJ Khaled) and prolific Malian musician Baba Sissoko.

DJ Khalab is a producer known for his fusion of modern electronic beats with traditional tribal drums. Sissoko, who is a Griot, a West African historian-like figure who stores and retells history through spoken poetry and music, is a real-life incarnation of West African heritage. Together, they both preserve and play with tradition to create a sound both new and familiar.

The duo’s debut, Khalab & Baba, out now on Wonderwheel Recordings, is a slow burner. These 10 tracks don’t jump out at you or demand your attention. Instead, Sissoko hisses and moans over (and sometimes under) Khalab’s repetitive, hypnotic loops and drones. Both musicians are inspired by the Malian Amadran structure, which focuses on building repetition rather than melodies. With Khalab’s touch, the music’s glitchy and sometimes danceable minimalism sounds in tune with the silver-soul sound that James Blake made famous. It’s a fruitful collaboration that you won’t want to miss.

Make sure to check out the duo’s SoundCloud for several remixes of the album’s singles.

DJ Khalab & Baba Sissoko: SoundCloud

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber
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Bassekou Kouyaté

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From: Garana, Mali

Sounds Like: Hendrix playing the ngoni lute

Bassekou Kouyaté, The legendary Malian virtuoso of the ngoni lute (“the Hendrix of the ngoni lute” is his unusual yet accurate tag), who has played with Taj Mahal, Paul McCartney, and Damon Albarn, released one of the best albums of 2015 according to Spin. It’s surely one of the most exciting electric sounds coming out of West Africa, a sound that’s only grown louder with Kouyaté collaboration with his brilliant Ngoni Ba band. Kouyaté is critically acclaimed all around the world, but it won’t be long before this man’s influence finally hits the American mainstream (this guy needs to get on a Kanye or Kendrick track soon).

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber
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Songhoy Blues

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From: Gao, Mali

Sounds Like: Talking Heads, but from the North African desert.

Like fellow Mali desert rockers Tinariwen, Songhoy Blues is a group that formed out of the struggle for one of Mali’s many ethnic groups, the Songhoy, to preserve its history and culture against oppression through the power of music. But these musicians also grew up loving hip-hop, the Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix, so instead of becoming another traditional Mali band, they fused their heritage with their modern music favorites and created fantastic, guitar-driven desert rock music that is rooted in African tradition yet accessible to the Western ear.

Their debut album, ‘Music in Exile’, was produced by Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner and Marc-Antonie Moreau, who produced the other famous Mali group Amadou & Mariam. The band has been touring relentlessly around the world, and they recently made a special appearance at this year’s Glastonbury Music Festival. I got to see these guys play in NYC, and their music was so full of energy and passion that the entire audience couldn’t help but to dance along.

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber
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Tinariwen

Tinariwen

From: Azawad, Mali

Sounds Like: Sahara Desert Blues

Tinariwen is a Grammy-winning ensemble of Tuareg (desert nomads) musicians who have been around since the 80s when the founding members met at a Tuareg camp in Libya. The band was inspired by western music, especially old American blues and Jimi Hendrix, and they fused the “sound of the city” with the sound of their desert heritage. The music is blues, but there’s layers of space that you can hear in the music that reflects their desert home of North Africa.

The band sounds great, but you should know Tinariwen because they might be one of the most badass bands around. Now I hate using the word “badass” to describe a band, so let me explain:

-The band took a break from music when they volunteered to fight against a corrupt Mali government for Tuareg independence during revolution time.

-Founding member Ibrahim Ag Alhabib built his first guitar from a bicycle wire, a stick, and a tin can.

-Their list of collaborators include guitar-wiz Nels Cline, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, and TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe.

-They recorded their 2011 Tassili in a tent in the middle of the Algerian Desert (literally, a tent).

-Right before the band was about to record their latest album, 2014’s excellent Emmaar, a Islamic extremists in Mali accused the band of making “Satan’s music” and they captured and imprisoned band leader Abdallah Ag Lamida while the rest of the band managed to escape to the United States. To kill time before Lamida was released, the band recorded Emmaar Joshua Tree, CA, an American desert that made the band feel right at home.

…Yeah, this band is badass.

Check out “Toumast Tincha” below, which is off Emmaar.

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber
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