Donso - Denfila (3 stars)

Donso - Denfila

Sound-and culture clash of 11 electronic and traditional musicians from France and Mali


From Salif Keita and Ali Farka Touré to Amadou & Mariam and Tinariwen, Mali boasts an incredibly rich musical culture, one seemingly endangered by the political upheaval of the last 18 months. This Afro–European project is proof that Mali’s beat goes on. Recorded in both Paris and Bamako, Donso’s Denfila is a sound-and culture clash comprising 11 electronic and traditional musicians from France and Mali.

Overall, Denfila is welcoming and interesting but not quite incendiary. Its emphasis is on restraint and subtlety – each traditionally rooted track adopts a steady, languid pace, heavy on repetition, the electronic elements generally interwoven discreetly and tastefully. At times, it all feels a little antiseptic and / or dated, with certain tentative dub and echo effects recalling the complacency of mid-90s faux-psychedelic chillout. But the listener’s patience is often rewarded – what’s compelling is the way in which beats that initially seem plodding and uninspired slowly begin to reveal themselves as polyrhythmically intricate and fascinating. 

There are some exceptional moments, too: in ‘Dali’, the combination of oppressively heavy slow-sweep bass throb and delicate plucked n’goni (a kind of Malian lute) patterns make for something at once still and tranquil but also driving, unstoppable and trance-inducing. The fluttering, spiralling lines of guest guitarist Sambala Kouyaté are the simmering core of ‘Siby Hours’, bringing a raw, bristly texture absent elsewhere. Consisting only of processed percussion, ‘Awakenings’ is eccentric and verges on the joyously frenetic, while ‘Heading to Gao’ evolves into a pleasingly psychedelic stomp that’s just a tad fuzzy around the edges. Also highly appealing are the four ‘Duruni’ miniatures – grimy, atmospheric field recordings from Bamako, vignettes of Malian musical life in situ.

Denfila Donso (Teaser)

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