By Marc Bruner
Kokanko Sata's debut album is another ground-breaking piece of work from the musical hotbed of Mali. It's also another excellent release from Honest Jons Records, a creative partnership between London's legendary Honest Jons record shop and Blur frontman Damon Albarn.
Kokanko Sata sings and plays percussion, and she also plays the kamelen n'goni, an African harp with a deep, forceful sound that is notoriously difficult to master. Her music is well grounded in the traditional sounds of the Wassoulou region of southern Mali, which has generated a number of famous female singers, such as Oumou Sangare and Sali Sidibe. But she certainly breaks with tradition by playing the kamelen ngoni herself -- this is an instrument that is (or rather, was) reserved exclusively for men. No one would teach her how to play it, so she made one out of a gourd and taught herself.
The result is a rich and personal sound that is full of acoustic energy. Multi-talented musician and mother of three, Kokanko Sata is paving the way for female musicians in Mali (and hopefully beyond) to pursue the music they love.