The backstory to Malian guitarslinger Anansy Cissé’s new album Anoura (Songhai for “Light” and streaming at Spotify) is a very troubling, but ultimately triumphant one. He’d already recorded some of it by 2018, when he was invited to play a festival in his hometown near Timbuktu. On the way there, he and his band were attacked and abducted by thugs, who destroyed his equipment. Devastated, Cissé shelved the project and retreated to doing studio production work. But he recovered, regrouped the band and the result is a cutting-edge, deliciously psychedelic album.
The instrumentation reflects Cissé’s blend of traditional desert sounds and jamband rock. Abdoulaye Kone and Bakari Diarra share the ngoni chair, with Abrahmane Toure on bass, Mahalmadane Traore on percussion and bass as well, with the late Zoumana Tereta on single-string soku fiddle on two tracks, quite possibly the Malian master’s final studio appearance.
They open the album with Tiawo (Education), Cissé essentially telling everybody to free themselves from mental slavery over a slowly swaying, melancholy minor-key vamp, his web of reverbtoned washes, skittishly loopy riffs and searing, distorted hammer-ons contrasting with the spiky ngoni.
He follows with a couple of festival anthems. Foussa Foussa, a catchy, neon-lit roadhouse blues shuffle returned closer to its roots, has more of those blazing, reverb-infused riffs and a sly dub breakdown. Tiara has tricky syncopation that reminds of the Grateful Dead during their late 60s flirtation with Indian music, plus trippy sheets of feedback and distortion filtering behind the intertwine of overdubs.
Cissé, a shout-out to his marabout ancestors, has a relaxed, hypnotically loping groove and a gentle call-and-response, enhanced by the looming reverb riffs throughout the sonic picture. Mina, the album’s most bizarre mashup, is a brisk minor-key stoner boogie awash in wah-wah and buzzy distortion.
The band return to more stark, darkly lingering ambience with Nafa (Patience), complete with icy gothic chorus-box bass. Tereta’s acidic, trumpet-like melismas raise the energy in the acoustic-electric textures of Talka (Poverty). For whatever reason, Balkissa, a love song to Cissé’s wife, is the most anthemic and rock-oriented track here.
Nia (Mothers) has the most richly melodic blend of simmering, jangly harmonies and multitracks, Tereta’s soku adding ghostly texture in the back of the mix. The message of the album’s slowly crescendoing final cut, Djam Maganouna is basically “you’re a creep, and people have long memories.” May we all live long enough to have memories of this album…and get to enjoy another one from this irrepressibly creative guitarist.