Kimi Djabate, "Karam"
Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, native Kimi Djabate is the latest in a lineage of griots, and he's one of the most talented members of his musically blessed family. Djabate's debut album, "Karam," is a quiet tour de force. In addition to writing all 15 songs on the set, the multi-instrumentalist plays balafon, guitars and various drums and sings the lead vocals. His sound has the melodic grace that typifies West African music, and the social conscience displayed in his lyrics is Pan-African. Djabate's musicianship is exceptional; his vocals have a genuine, unadorned grace, and his songwriting offers variety in mood and tempo. "Manla" is a track with a rhythnmic heart, buoyed by some skillful balafon work. And the song "Manho" unfolds in a measured tempo that heightens the hypnotic effect of the guitar and the vocal refrain. --Philip Van Vleck