THERE’S A CERTAIN sound that reeks of long dazed days under the hot sun of WOMAD festivals. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve witnessed some extraordinary – even life-changing – performances at WOMAD, but the vast majority of acts ply a kind of festival-friendly gloop that frankly, gets on my tits. And the vast majority of these festival-friendly gloopers start out with a music that’s African in origin, but that along the way, got infected with some kind of parasite that waters it down and makes it just right for consumption by white, middle class revelers.
Amonafi is like that, except in the most pleasant possible way. Daby Touré is clearly an adept and seasoned performer, and this musical polyglot seamlessly blends influences from his native Africa, but with the wiry sensibilities of someone who has lived most of his life in the West. Born in Mauritania, Touré moved to France as a teen, and it shows: his African roots are strong, but the music’s smooth sensuality is surely a product of his adopted homeland.
In other words, Ali Farka Touré and Daby Touré are about as far removed as possible, despite the shared surname: Daby may have a few guitar callouses, but there’s no dirt under the fingernails of his music. Which of course, doesn’t mean that it’s crap, and really, it’s not – just that it’s got a sheen and a modern production sound that will appeal to some, and be anathema to others.
One thing for sure is the guy’s got a voice – one of those high, keening but assertive voices that can only be of African origin, and it makes most Western pop singers sound weedy and uncertain by comparison. Most of the instruments are played by Touré as well, so it’s not like you could accuse the French studio mafia of drowning them in their treacle.
Perhaps Touré is an exemplar of the modern world music star. Had he been active in the ‘80s, his sound might have been fatally compromised by horrid early digital keyboard sounds and thin drum machines, while in the ‘90s, his label might have stuck a gang of superstar sessioneers in the studio to glug up his music aesthetic. At least now, if he makes concessions to commerciality, he’s doing so on his own terms, his own way.
So there’s a light fingerpicked folk guitar thing going through some tracks, and an easy-going, non-threatening, happy groove that yeah, festival audiences would fucking love. [Excuse the French]. There are songs about enslavement of peoples that sound more like soppy love ballads. There’s even one fairly hackneyed reggae song, and ‘Emma’ even finds him singing in English on a melodic bed that makes it sound almost poppy.
Interestingly, he’s already been through the music industry machinations of supporting Peter Gabriel on tour, getting signed to Real World, then to Universal… and now he’s back on an independent.
Amonafi is an easy background saunter that will probably win audiences and ensure his place on WOMAD bills for years to come. GARY STEEL
Music = 3/5
Sound = 3.5/5