Gossip is the fifth album from Khaira Arby, known as ‘The Nightingale of the North.’ It follows the critically acclaimed 2010 release, Timbuktu Tarab, which introduced many listeners to her music for the first time. Since bursting onto the music scene in the late 1970’s, Arby has established herself as one of Mali’s greatest treasures. Her resounding voice and infectious band have spread the musical traditions of Arby’s hometown, Timbuktu, to audiences worldwide.
The group recorded the foundation for this album during tours in North America and Europe between 2010 and 2012. Unfortunately, Arby and many of her fellow Malians had to relocate to Bamako to escape Islamic fundamentalists enforcing Sharia law during the Northern Mali conflict of 2012. In response, Gossip offers a plea for peace and acceptance for all.
The opening track, “Al Jama’a Bisimillah,” offers a warm welcome to all walks of life. This traditional wedding song serves as a greeting to guests, proclaiming that everyone will be gladly received regardless of their background. Instantly, Arby’s commanding voice takes center stage with full support from her enthusiastic band mates. The interplay between the drums, bass, rhythm and lead guitar is full of polyrhythmic harmony and pulses with electricity. It’s a shame this is the only track on the album that features the tehardent, which offers a nice contrast to the electric guitars.
“Alouha Homoli” is one of the most vibrant compositions on the album. The repeated chorus offers a platform for Arby to showcase her vocal proficiency. As her voice ascends to incredible heights, it’s easy to hear why she’s referred to as a nightingale. Her explosive phrasing blends perfectly with the backing vocalists and rings out like a bell. The raw emotion of this piece leaves a lasting impression as Arby sings for her beloved country as it is torn asunder by war.
The next three tracks, “Djamba,” “Hala,” and “Chris” feature the Debo Band horns as well as Professor Louie on keyboards and organ. This addition gives the group a punchy, soulful edge which offers a nice compliment to the band’s core sound. “Djamba” in particular stands out as a bitter Arby calls on all Malians to stop fighting in order to put aside their differences with one another.
Madame Oumou Sall Seck, the first woman elected to public office in Northern Mali, is the subject of “Oumou Sall,” a fast paced tribute to the Mayor of Goundam. Punctuated guitar riffs cycle through this powerful groove. “La Liberte” is based on a traditional form and calls for an end to slavery and freedom for everyone. Arby sings for peace across the globe, in Africa and Northern Mali.
Finally, “Tchini Tchini / Gossip” addresses the nagging buzz of idle talk. Arby says all the nasty gossiping needs to cease. The title for the album comes from a translation of “Tchini Tchini.”
Khaira Arby and her band continue to blur the boundary between traditional and contemporary Malian music. While this set of songs is drawn from the rhythms and melodies of Arby’s youth, the group has injected these tunes with a timeless mix of scintillating funk and blues. The connection between Arby and the group is impressive and results in a heartfelt and energetic album that demands to be heard.
Originally published in RootsWorld Magazine.