A recent discovery from Sublime Frequencies: the simmering funk of Burkina Faso's Baba Commandant

Baba Commandant

Baba Commandant

Sublime Frequencies earned its reputation for idiosyncratically sharing archival material gathered by its principals, including Alan Bishop during his extensive travels as a member of Sun City Girls. Those recordings of radio broadcasts, crudely transferred cassette releases, and guerrilla field recordings were thrilling when they first surfaced, offering a different strain of ethnography that rejected both academic stiffness and music industry simplicity. Naturally the inherent proclivities of the label's owners functioned as a kind of filter, but in general the label put its findings and fascinations out there for curious listeners to grapple with on their own and to draw their own conclusions. There are clear issues with this approach--including the thorny topic of copyright, which has been discussed widely elsewhere, and a kind of fetishization that can result when context is eschewed. As cool as some of the label's earliest work was, I still think it would have been cooler if we had a better idea about the conditions that produced it.

The label has evolved greatly since it emerged more than fifteen years ago. Its archival titles now include liner notes and recording information more closely aligned with the influential French label Ocora--which the imprint celebrated last year with a lavish coffee table book devoted to the photography and work of Charles Duvelle. Sublime Frequencies has also become an outlet for lots of active musicians, essentially launching the global careers for artists like Syrian dabka singer Omar Souleyman and Tuareg guitarist Bombino. In both cases those artists were appealingly raw, unexposed to music industry practices in the west. When I first heard another excellent label discovery, the West Saharan Group Doueh, they were excellent, but the pacing of the performance totally dispensed with the sort of pre-planned peaks and valleys of most "world music" sets.

A couple weeks ago the label dropped the second album by Baba Commandant & the Mandingo Band, a hard-hitting guitar combo from Burkina Faso, which arrives as a ready-made package. The group has already been touring Europe and its leader Mamadou Sanou (aka Baba Commandant) has worked extensively with world music star Victor Deme. The label released the band's debut album Juguya back in 2015--which I totally missed until hearing the new Siri Ba Kele. Both recordings featuring propulsive if skittering kit drumming of Mohamed Sana and spindly bass lines of Massibo Taragna, over which is laid a seductive blend of cycling doso n'goni patterns played by singer Mamadou Sanou (aka Baba Commandant) and the scorching electric guitar of Issouf Diabate. The debut embraces a roomy take on Afrobeat, accented by occasional tenor saxophone probing and extra percussion.

The new record looks closer to home for inspiration, maintaining the tough funk drive of its predecessor while navigating more meditative modes of the west Sahara greats from Mali and Guinea, albeit with a ferocious scrappiness. Sanou sings with uninhibited gusto, frequently deploying a hearty growl, the provenance of which is spelled out clearly by the band's full-bodied cover of "Keleya," a 1977 classic from Malian singer Moussa Doumbia. The heavy grooves and biting guitar remind me more than a little of another strong contemporary band from neighboring Niger: Tal National. But the cascading twang of Sanou's hypnotic doso n'goni and the psychedelic flourishes of Diabate--to say nothing of the singer's outsize charisma--give the band its own identity. As you can hear below on "Siraba Kele," the band succeeds on extended jams that deploy an ambling kind of groove, simmering along until there's a sudden but controlled release of the accruing energy.

Today's playlist:

Barney Childs, Heaven to Clear When Day Did Close (New World)

Rodrigo Amado, Kent Kessler & Paal Nilssen-Love, Teatro (European Echoes)

Ism, Nature in Its Inscrutability Strikes Back (Umlaut)

Isabelle Faust & Pablo Heras-Casado/Freiburger Barockorchester, Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto No. 5/The Hebrides/Symphony No. 5 "Reformation" (Harmonia Mundi)

Rosalind Hall and Judith Hamann, Gossamers (Caduc)