“Kaani” – Tal National

4 stars (out of 5)

1

KaaniAlready a hit in their native Niger, Tal National are ready to head to the world stage, beginning their tour in Chicago in September.  This is their first release for FatCat records, due out September 9th, and it delivers a heady mix of West African drum and guitar based music and Saharan trance; it is their third release.  Due to their heavy performing commitments, up to five hours a night, five days a week, the band is a kind of collective of up to 13 members, although usually only 6 perform at a time.  Their town is on an established trade route in a former French colony and this is reflected in the eclectic music and ethnic diversity of the band, led by musically free-thinking Hamadal ‘Almeida’ Moumine, who is also an ex-football player, part time judge and teacher; African musicians are rarely full-time professionals.   For this album, imagine a throbbing Ali Farka Toure on speed, with talking drum and electric guitars; they have also been compared to Mbalax and Highlife.  “Kaani” is a seamless mix of new compositions and contemporary takes on traditional West African songs, but with no understanding of the lyrics, I can’t tell which is which, a testament to the unique style Tal National bring to all of their music.  The songs are sung out loudly, there is no room here for whispered nuances, but these guys are not studio-based but instead are used to playing the sweaty, noisy clubs of Niamey.

Jamie Carter, a Chicago-based producer was brought in 2011 to record “Kaani” in just two weeks, an astounding feat given that the studio was dilapidated and most of the instruments broken!  The energy of their live performances has been captured here with full force.  Apparently the band would record all day, then step out to their live gigs immediately after, but there are no tired lapses of concentration here just full-on beats and these guys sound like they are on fire throughout the album.  They barely drop pace from the opening title track which initially sounds like the drummers were given different briefs, but repeated listenings reveal a method out of the trancey chaos.” Zigda”, the second track has lovely guitar melodies weaving in and out of the beats.  All but one of the eight tracks weighs in at well over five minutes allowing the songs to build with manic and looping rhythms; it could be an exhausting listen in the wrong environment, but the repetitive musical themes definitely build rather than bore.  If anything, the songs could have been better differentiated maybe by rotating the instruments so that they have a different musical variety; it sounds like no-one wanted to be left out.  Also, some contrasting tempos would have given the CD different themes, but Tal National found their beat and stayed on it and it is uplifting all the way.  Some of the high tuned virtuoso guitar could almost be Hendrix, especially on the last track, “Banganésiba”, which does sound like a finale.  All in all a great listen, but I’d love to catch them live and dance.

Out September 9 on FatCat Records.