Salif Keita is a traditional singer from Mali, in West Africa, and 'Cono' is an old mid-tempo ballad. I am from Benin, and I don't speak his language, Bambara, but I like to sing this song because I can feel the emotion in the voice. Salif has a beautiful voice, he has the biggest range of any African singer, and when he hits a note it's like someone giving you an upper cut - you really feel it. It has a beautiful melody, carried by the voice, with the keys coming in after it, which distinguishes it from a Western song. There is guitar in it, and kora, the traditional instrument of the Malian griot, someone from a dynasty of musicians. It's like a guitar, but with a calabash (a fruit) skin and many strings, and here it's played by picking on the neck to give a sound and rhythm like flowing water.
West African music has developed many stringed instruments, but the percussion is great too. Mixed in with the congas is the dgembe, a cow's skin drum stretched tight with strings to make it high: often in African music the drum and bass are very melodic and it's worth listening to their harmonies. It shows how universal African instruments are, and that we have a culture that is strong enough to mix with yours and lose nothing in the process.'
'Cono' is on Salif Keita's Soro album (Sterns/Mango STCD1020)
Angelique Kidjo is performing at this year's Womad, see details right