There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Best known for his guitar-playing and songwriting (with Salif Keita) as a member of Les Ambassadeurs from 1971-82, Kante Manfila has recorded as a bandleader and vocalist sporadically throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Born in Guinea, but later living in the Ivory Coast, Mali, and France, Manfila has long blended traditional West African manding sounds with an array of other rhythmic guitar- and horn-based styles. On Ni Kanu (which means “love”), he adeptly leads a large cast through a set of relaxed, flowing songs. Manfila may not be the vocal equal of Keita, but he is particularly eloquent here. The midtempo material, such as the title track and “Akass,” finely interweaves Manfila’s high-pitched, muezzinlike lead and a soprano chorus with the band’s Afropop instrumental backing. Like a mellower version of soukous, these compositions mix Cuban rhumbalike horns and keyboards with West African guitar jangle. While a few of the ballads meander, and some tracks are marred by generic arena-rock guitar solos, others allow Manfila’s note-stretching voice and subtle picking to shine.