Sunday, March 13, 2011

Adam Klein: From Georgia to Mali

We are seeing a mini-wave of collaboration between American Jewish musicians and Malian Muslim ones.  Just in the past week, two live shows in New York showcased the phenomenon.  Sway Machinery is the creation of guitarist singer/songwriter Jeremiah Lockwood, and play a rock fusion of his grandfather's Jewish cantor tradition and down home blues.  After hooking up with Timbuktu diva Khaira Arby at the 2010 Festivil in the Desert, Sway Machinery recorded an album in Bamako.  That album, The House of Friendly Ghosts Vol. 1 (Just out on Jdub Records) pulls all this together, as did the live show, which went on at The Bell House on March 5, and is currently touring with both Sway Machinery and Khaira Arby's band on the bill.  On March 9 at Poisson Rouge, Oran Etkin's Kelenia opened up for the Yemenite Jewish boogie band Yemen Blues.  Etkin has been fusing jazz with Mande music since traveling to Mali over a decade ago, and his group Kelenia has developed a dynamic blend of mostly instrumental composition and improvisation.  Where else will you hear clarinet and balafon trading riffs?

Oran Etkin & Kelenia
Khaira Arby (lft), Jeremiah Lockwood (rt)
Enter Adam Klein, an Athens, Georgia based, country, folk and Americana singer/songwriter, who first went to Mali as a Peace Corps volunteer (2002-04), learning to speak Bambara in the process.  He came home to Georgia to launch his own musical career, and a record label, Cowboy Angel Music.  Klein returned to Mali in 2010 to record an album that would seek common ground between local traditions there and his own compositions.  He worked with some heavy hitters, including guitar-ace brothers Djelimady and Solo Tounkara, and the soku (violin) wizard Zoumana Tereta.   The album, recently finished, is called Dugu Wolo, and Klein describes the music as "original traditional-styled Malian ʻMandeʼ songs performed in the Bambara language."

Lassine Kouyate, is Klein's Bambara name, and he's earned it, spending enough time in Mali to learn the language and a great deal about the music, and also to make deep friendships there. The album features a range of traditional Malian instruments, but the songs are mostly Klein's, and so filtered through his own folky, southern American musical background. Filmmaker Jason MIller of Eikon Productions filmed a "making of the record" documentary film, which Klein says, "shows Mali through the lens of some of my close friends there and deals with my struggle to remain connected with and supporting my friends and home community form a distance as I work to gain footing and establish my own career in the states." This is a case study in the fast growing field of American-West African musical collaboration. Here's the trailer, and incidentally, the film is still being completed, and looking for support if you have ideas!

You can find out more about Adam Klein and his work at his website (www.adam-klein.com and his Tumblr site.  Watch this space for more on all these collaborations.

Banning Eyre
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