What stands out most dramatically on this recording is the near-total lack of drums. Instead, the group relies on the kora and bala to weave together a net-like foundation. With this approach, rhythm becomes inextricably bound to harmony. While the harmonies might not be particularly sophisticated from a jazz perspective, they convey a crystalline beauty in their straightforward simplicity. And rather than following the extended forms common to traditional West African music, the group mostly simplifies matters to the 4/4 time signature found in most Western music. Rather than featuring instrumental solos, the music focuses on group cohesion and the sort of interplay that seasoned masters evoke through subtlety and an experienced ear.
In every case, the vocals shine-they are, in fact, the point of the music. While the language will without exception be unintelligible to English speakers, the phrasing, lyricism, and spirit speak volumes. Kindly enough, the folks at Smithsonian Folkways have supplied both African and English lyrics. On "Nanfulen," for example, the point is crystal clear: "Your ancestors have sacrificed for you / so that good things will come to you."In the end, Badenya is true to its name. It's a musical statement which blends new and old traditions, aimimg for a spirit of celebration and enlightenment-and it never overstates itself. Like any deep spiritual music, it's best appreciated when you surrender your preconceptions in order to listen at a deeper level. If you can do that, this is as deep as it gets.
Nils Jacobson wrote