Dancing in the Streets (or: How To Not Be Bored)


Balani Show Super Hits : Various Artists


Most bands bore me.

I don’t mean that categorically. I mean that even when I like a band, at some point during their live set, I get a little bored. It might just be an age thing. I don’t have the patience I once had, especially for guitar-driven rock. If a band isn’t doing something really interesting with it, I’m liable to get antsy, go grab a drink, bum a smoke, anything to escape the onslaught of amps for a moment.

I feel similarly about music in general these days. For the last several years, most of the music I seek out has been from other countries, if only to bust through the predictable sounds of Western Imperialism. Now I gravitate towards the “international” section of record stores, as well as blogs featuring music not from America or Britain (though of course, my freedom to so easily dip into other cultures speaks of imperialism as well, but that’s another story…)

A recent search at my local record store (Euclid Records) turned up this delightful album. I knew nothing about modern “Super Shows” and “Electronic Street Parties from Mali,” but, as soon as I put in on at their listening station, I knew I had to buy it. Though it has some familiar elements, overall it sounds like nothing I’ve heard before. Plus I just like the idea of music created on and for the streets.

I have no idea exactly how this music is made, but it seems to be a blend of traditional, acoustic instruments with modern electronics (keyboards, samples, a mix of real and electronic drums, or they might all just be samples – so hard to tell these days!). Some of it has an almost techno-beat, while other tracks employ more of a reggaeton-feel. Several songs feature a xylophone/marimba sounding instrument, which, from googling, I discovered is called a balafon. The balani from the title is the smaller version of the instrument, one with less keys that players can wear strapped around their chests (like the “keytar” version of a standard keyboard, I imagine).

The more music has become internationalized in general, the more musicians are drawing from other cultures for inspiration. Rap has clearly influenced these musicians, as many of these tracks feature MCs. A lot of the singing also contains a healthy dose of auto-tune. I was reminded of M.I.A. while listening to several of these tracks, and am fairly certain she’s utilized a lot of these sounds and rhythmic ideas on some of her own recordings.

While it’s music made to dance to, it’s also effective for cleaning or really any energetic activity. My favorite track varies depending on my mood, but right now I’m really taken by the second song, “Furu Djogou” by Kaba Blon. It features several singers (male and female I believe), and a sick, multi-pitched drum beat that plays in lock-step with the balani, driving the entire song. You honestly won’t be able to stay still while this album is playing… but then again, why would you?

You can preview and purchase the album here