Country of Origin/Based: Niger
Genre: West African Guitar Rock
The landlocked West African nation of Niger has never a strong musical identity—although it recently produced desert blues singer Bombino—but that didn’t matter to the members of Tal National, a hard-hitting guitar-driven sextet formed in 2000. The band calls its music “Trad-Moderne,” and on its stunning third album and first internationally-distributed release Kaani—engineered in Niamey by Chicago producer Jamie Carter–own you can hear the push-and-pull of disparate traditions from all over the continent colliding in fresh, exhilarating ways. There are strong traces of Congolese soukous, Nigerian highlife, Zimbabwean chimurenga, and even a splash of Jamaican reggae, but the way the cross-hatched electric guitars, playing alternately terse, staccato patterns and stinging, elegantly flowing leads cascades over the taut, propulsive rhythm section creates a sound all its own. On top of that the singing is richly soulful and the melodies hook-laden.
Leni Stern African Trio
Country of Origin/Based: Germany/Mali/New York
Genre: Ngoni musician
About a decade ago the music of West Africa exerted its grip on the acclaimed German jazz guitarist Leni Stern who moved to the US in 1977, and later worked with musicians like Bill Frisell and Paul Motian—she’s also married to longtime Miles Davis guitarist Mike Stern. The influence transformed her own music, and while she continues to draw upon her improvisational skill, her work is rooted in the sounds of a continent from where she grew up. Stern was in Bamako working on her latest album Smoke, No Fire when Islamic radicals infiltrated a Tuareg uprising in the country’s northern region and threatened the stability of the nation, but she remained in Mali, recording with guests like singer Amy Sacko—wife of ngoni master Bassekou Kouyate—and the rapper Woroferela Moden. She performs with her long-time trio (bassist Mamadou Ba and percussionist Alioune Faye).