Thoroughly Modern Mali

Former lead guitarist and singer for the Malian state band Super Biton de Segou, Mama Sissoko delivers the goods on what is only his second album in a decade. Soleil de Minuit (Midnight Sun) weaves a rich tapestry of his Manding tribe's musical heritage. The tribal roots are especially impressive when Toumani Diakité joins the ensemble on the lutelike ngoni for the hunting song, "Boma Ma" (RealAudio excerpt).

Sissoko lays down a classic salsa dance-groove in the album's title cut (RealAudio excerpt), a Latin surprise smack in the middle of an otherwise purely Malian album. Panamanian singer Azuquita's voice contrasts touchingly with Sissoko's own melancholy voice and glittering guitar.

Like many West African musicians, Sissoko has spent time in Paris. The track "Commissariat" includes some banter between a French customs official and a naive African. The latter insists he's not from anywhere in particular, and wonders why he can't just wander around France. "Where are your papers?" inquires the chorus.

But Sissoko's heart lies close to home. Though he paid homage to the Super Biton band and their rivals, National Badema, on his first album, this time around his final instrumental, "Hommage à K" (RealAudio excerpt), honors the Keletigui and his Tambourins, another great band who were Mali to the core.