Celtic Connections review: Bassekou Kouyate & Nogoni Ba with SIAN, Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow

By the bosky banks of the Niger, do aspiring youngsters practise air ngoni? The doubtless irreverent thought occurs while watching Bassekou Kouyate, Malian master of the ngoni lute – which many regard as a precursor of the banjo – work up a formidable groove with his family band, Ngoni Ba.

Bassekou Kouyate PIC: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images.

Bassekou Kouyate & Nogoni Ba with SIAN, Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow ****

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Accompanied by two other ngoni players – one with a punchy bass version, a drummer and a percussionist as well as the powerful vocals of his wife, Amy Sacko, Kouyate coaxed percussive twangs, hypnotic riffs and fiery solos from his amplified instrument. His new album, Miri, is avowedly a return to his village roots, but this didn’t prevent the band from boogying loudly and gleefully.

At times, the pacing became stealthier, with Sacko’s singing as querulously declamatory as flamenco, while Kouyate reminded us that his griot forebears performed for Malian royalty, a reminder of venerable provenance.

The show’s first half couldn’t have sounded more different, though with musical pedigree of its own, as the Gaelic singing trio SIAN – Ellen MacDonald, Eilidh Cormack and Ceitlin L R Smith, accompanied by guitarist Innes Watson, brought keen harmonies to bear on their own tradition. A highlight was their beautiful a cappella delivery, led by Cormack, of a variant of the lament Griogal Cridhe. They reappeared for the end of Ngoni Ba’s set, valiantly alternating nimble puirt à beul and waulking songs with Sacko’s ornate holler in an exuberant finale that radiated warm if breathless musical fraternity. - Jim Gilchrist