You gotta love any band with a guitar player named Diamond Fingers. Bembeya Jazz leader Sekou Diabate's nimble digits easily place him on the shortlist of African guitar greats: King Sunny Ade, Diblo Dibala, Djelimady Tounkara. His fluid style of playing might also remind some of Orchestra Baobab's Barthelemy Attiso -- the comparison isn't that much of a stretch. Like its Senegalese peers, Guinea's Bembeya Jazz is a legendary group returning to active recording and touring after a prolonged absence. Much of the material is based on traditional folkloric songs, with frequent time shifts and subtle infusions of funk, jazz, and slack-key guitar to keep things percolating. Bembeya may not quite ascend to the world beat nirvana heights of the last Baobab disc, but just try not to tap your toes to Diamond Fingers' melodic runs on "Sabou," or refrain from moving your posterior to the universal groove of "Yelema Yelemaso."
Even more impressive is Zimbabwean pop icon Oliver Mtukudzi's The Tuku Years. Its ten tracks drawn from six albums reveal why the singer-guitarist is one of the most revered contemporary African musicians around. Mtukudzi's sound is like a bending willow -- flexible, yet incredibly tough -- and his expressive voice and intricate picking style result in some absolutely heavenly Afro-pop rhythms that teeter on the edge of folk-rock. Although he has only been recording for five years, he's been playing for a quarter-century, which explains his mature songcraft and near-perfect phrasing. The Tuku Years is a nigh-impeccable album, with no noticeable flaws: Even the lone English-language number, "Hear Me Lord," overflows with passionate, inspired fervor.
Both artists play the Stern Grove Festival on Sunday. 415-252-6252.
Seven Days - March 28, 2:21 PM
Seven Days - March 27, 1:16 PM
Seven Days - March 27, 11:33 AM
Seven Days - March 27, 7:46 AM
What the Fork - March 24, 10:21 AM