September 2008

Kakande - Dununya
Jumbie Records JMB0008
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by Shannon Holliday

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

Pulsing rhythms, evocative vocals and incessant melodic scaling are behind the allure of the New York City-based group Kakande. Rooted in the African Griot tradition transported to America, this ten-piece band translates a unique cultural legacy into a modern event with universal appeal. Guided by master balafon player Famoro Dioubate, Kakande's latest release, Dununya, is a vibrant and authentic expression of a familial musical heritage passed down into clearly capable hands.

The balafon is a wooden African xylophone with mystery and magic surrounding its origins. After much changing of hands amongst those determined to jealously covet it and those destined to master it, the instrument found itself prized by the Mende people and guarded as a birthright by Dioubate's forefathers. Dioubate is indeed a master of the instrument, and Dununya allows him to showcase that talent. "Temedi Kota" opens with a jaw-dropping flurry of notes, and while other songs may unfold with flute, guitar, or even cello arrangements, all of the songs ultimately aim the spotlight on the beautiful balafon.

The vocals by Dioubate and bassist/producer Peter Fand are sung with the authority of great storytellers, but additional vocals by Famoro's female cousin Missia Saran Dioubate elevate the level to astounding. The title track features Dioubate singing alongside her cousin, backed by moody cello, melancholy flute, rich and reedy saxophone, and the ascending and descending notes of the balafon. Kakande nods respectfully to both the past and the present with Dununya. While the music has a distinctly West African feel, a burgeoning appreciation of West African music throughout New York is credited for the revitalized energy and pulse apparent throughout this release.