Benyoro unleash powerful praise music from West Africa on their debut self-titled album. The New York sextet began assembling in 2011 and have quickly found their stride. By mixing Mandé music, specifically that of the Maninka and Bamana people, with traditional and modern influences, Benyoro have developed a driving sound with bass and drum kit holding down a heavy groove with accents from the taman (talking drum) and djembe as kora and electric guitar lead the charge. The result is infectious.
While there are a fair amount of instrumental tracks on this record, a strong vocal presence adds great substance to several songs. Bébé Camara’s dynamic range encompasses every note she sings and propels Benyoro to another level. She is a natural fit with the band and one can only hope they continue to work together in the future. Tapani Sissoko also lends her powerful voice to “Haidara Sirifo,” one of the highlights of the album.
Sam Dickey’s electric guitar plays an integral role in the group. Dickey is a California native, but spent time growing up in Burkina Faso. He lived and mentored with Toumani Diabaté in Mali and studied with Djelimady Tounkara of Super Rail Band fame. He even sat in every week at Diabaté’s Symmetric Orchestra performances, honing his craft. All of his training and listening pays off on this record. Dickey demonstrates a great understanding of pace and flow. He can jump in and elevate the band with a flurry of picked guitar lines or sit back and let the groove fester in support of the other members. He also plays djeli ngoni on the CD.
Malian kora player Yacouba Sissoko compliments Dickey well, bringing his experience of growing up in a jeli family to the group. He began taking lessons from his grandfather at the age of nice and has played with a number of musicians to date, including Paul Simon, Regina Carter and Baaba Maal. Dickey and Sissoko are joined by Patrice Blanchard on bass, Andy Algire on drums, Idrissa Koné on taman and Luke Quaranta on djembe and percussion.
The upbeat rhythms and melodies on this album will entice people enough to make sure they see the band live. If you think the record is hot, get a dose of Benyoro in the flesh and let the sounds of West Africa put a spring in your step and bring a smile to your face.