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Daouda Dembele’s disc—a bootleg that, in Mali, goes by the unwieldy title of Ngognekorotokan—is more polished, by contrast. The griot’s voice is clearer and seldom distorts. And the sound of his ngoni has a soothing, bass-heavy quality that suits his repetitive riffs. Anyone who can sit through a compilation of early-20th-century American folk music, such as Goodbye, Babylon or Down in the Basement, should have no problem with the fidelity. The music, on the other hand, is less than accessible. Dembele thrums a single motif throughout and sings as if he were chatting about what he just ate for lunch. Which might be exactly what he’s doing, but few will be able to ID the language, let alone follow any part of the 42-minute spiel.
There’s no doubt that some artists are more exportable than others. Rock musicians who sing in their native tongue, such as Sweden’s Dungen or Japan’s Boris, can achieve modest success in America as long as their vocals are tuneful and only a small component of their overall sound. Musicians who make music so they can vocalize, such as MC Solaar and all of those Francophone rappers you’ve probably never heard of, have a much tougher time outside their home countries. This might explain why Bougouni Yaalali, Carneal’s compilation of recordings made while wandering around Bougouni and the capital city of Bamako, is the best of the Yaala Yaala catalog. Not only are the singers more musical than Pekos, Diallo, or Dembele, their accompanists could just as easily do without them.