DUGU WOLO BIOGRAPHY (Reviews below):
There’s no shortage of songwriters out there these days, ploughing rough paths on blacktops across America and beyond. Many position themselves as interesting, unique. Fresh and new. Mainly, the songwriter treads ground that’s been harvested for years. But from time to time, an artist emerges who shares a far away song, one who reaches beyond himself and treads a foreign place. And there finds not something new, but sameness. Connectedness. Oneness in an other. With "Dugu Wolo", his first collection of original traditional-styled Malian ‘Mande’ songs performed in the Bambara language, Athens, Georgia-based country folk and Americana singer/songwriter Adam Klein presents a moving record which will resonate with West African and worldwide listeners alike.
A clear new development in Klein’s work and sound, "Dugu Wolo" features haunting, beautiful rustic melodies built on simple acoustic guitar lines and colored with traditional Malian instrumentation (kora, ngoni, tama, calabash, djembe, njarka, etc.) compliments of some of the finest players in the land. Recorded over four days in Bamako, Mali, in February 2010, "Dugu Wolo" is both an exceptional and welcome addition to the esteemed catalogue of Malian music. It is that rare moment whereby a singular artist transcends his vernacular style, internalizes another culture and its music in a deep way, and becomes a meaningful voice for its people. The songs of "Dugu Wolo" offer powerful messages concerning solidarity, development, women’s empowerment, and public health for the people of Mali, themes which are commonly addressed and relevant in Malian music.
Recorded and produced by talented Malian engineer Baba Simaga, "Dugu Wolo" is characterized by its striking natural purity and rustic, acoustic aesthetic. The circumstances surrounding the recording sessions were similarly organic. “I was in Bamako expecting to record at a particular studio, but the plans fell through at the last minute, “ says Klein. “So I was stranded. I had a filmmaker with me, and four days to make the album. [Guitarist] Solo Tounkara took me to Baba’s studio one afternoon, and we arranged to record there. The following day I went in and played and sang the songs on acoustic guitar, and it built from there. Solo added some guitar, calabash came in, kora, ngoni, then tama. The songs were built quickly. We didn’t labor over sound or vocals,” he adds. “It’s meant to capture the songs in their pure, natural form, and speak for itself. And I think it achieves that in a really compelling, lasting way.”
An aesthetic that defines some of Klein’s favorite Malian albums. Echoes of Aboubacar ‘Kar Kar’ Traore’s stark sounds, Ali Farka Toure’s rootsy Niafunke as well as his collaborations with Toumani Diabate, and Salif Keita’s acoustic work a la Mouffou are not simply heard, but felt on "Dugu Wolo". Klein brought in songs which were, frankly, surprising to his Malian collaborators. “He’s channeling Kar Kar,” said Baba. “I don’t know how he can create such a precise Mande feeling in his melodies and writing. It’s impressive.” Young ngoni wizard Abdoullaye ‘Kandiafa’ Kone was also taken aback. “It is impossible to hear these songs and imagine, before you see him, that he is not a Malian”, he said.
Klein first encountered Malian music during his Peace Corps service in the Segou region of Mali, the experience of which highly influenced his songwriting. Developing a passion for the country’s rich, diverse, and long-standing musical tradition, Klein felt a strong connection between the rustic folk and blues of the aforementioned artists, along with many other important Malian musicians, and American country folk music. Klein’s American music records ("Distant Music", 2006; "Western Tales & Trails", 2008; "Wounded Electric Youth", 2010) are each, in varying ways, offshoots of his time in Mali.
Malians are renowned for their musical prowess, and Klein found himself supported by phenomenal musicians. Most of the performances on the album are first takes. “Baba and Solo called some of their friends and family members, and these guys came in and knocked out their parts in no time. Hadn’t heard the songs before,” Klein raves. “The parts and sounds on 'Dugu Wolo' are the players’ initial response to the music. ‘Kandiafa’ literally would listen to a song for about twenty seconds and start playing an incredible groove on the ngoni which complemented the song nicely. I’ve never seen anything like it before.” In the end, ten tracks were colored by the fine cast of musicians gracing the record: Solo Tounkara, respected griot and brother of Super Rail Band leader and acclaimed guitarist Djelimady Tounkara, on guitar; Abdoullaye ‘Kandiafa’ Kone (Tiken Jah Fakoly) on ngoni; Djelimory Tounkara (Djelimady Tounkara) on kora; Drissa Diabate on tama; Adama Dembele on calabash; Zoumana Tereta (Oumou Sangare, Bassekou Kouyate) on the horse-hair fiddle, njarka. "Dugu Wolo" also contains the performance of djeliya, or griot praise singing, performed by young artist Aiche Kouyate and the spoken djeliya of Solo Tounkara.
“Maliyo” is a soft song robed in kora and acoustic guitar recalling the great warrior king and founder of the Malian empire, Soundiata Keita. Here, Aicha Kouyate and Tounkara sing of the history of the kings of Mali and Soundiata’s formation of the nation and culture. It is an unspeakably deep, powerful song which will speak to Mande people everywhere. “Kana Waa” places the familiar refrain “Diaraby, i kana waa ka n to n kelen na” (“My love, do not leave me alone”) in a light pop melody highlighting Klein’s sweet voice and Solo Tounkara’s rapid-fire acoustic guitar lines. “Djon Si Sekote” is an Afro-pop acoustic rocker driven by the solid, irresistible ngoni groove and tama. “Hereba” a song for empowerment and peace, would not be out of place on a Tropicalia record. Warmed by kora, an island-fever bass line, and the high tapping djembe, listeners may find themselves in a brief Caribbean pina-colada reverie. Final track “Come so Far”, one of two English songs on the record, is a heartfelt tale of love and loss, touching on the challenges of living abroad in this vast impoverished sahelian land. An homage to friends and fellow Mali Peace Corps volunteers who lost their lives during their service, it’s a moving, pathos-infused closing to a powerful collection.
Mixed by Klein-collaborator AJ Adams at his Troubadour Den studio back in Athens, Georgia, and mastered by Jeff Capurso (R.E.M., Vic Chesnutt, Drive-By Truckers), "Dugu Wolo" is defined by a sound which will please the Malian sensibility along with world and roots music enthusiasts everywhere.
Klein brought Athens’ filmmaker Jason Miller to document the return trip to Mali and the process of recording the album. The resulting making-of-the-record documentary film is in the works and will be released upon its completion in coming years.
The grand musical heritage of Mali is no secret. A number of western artists have travelled there to play and/or record, including Bonnie Raitt, Robert Plant, bluesman Corey Harris, Bela Fleck, and Damian Albarn of Blur, among others. Klein distinguishes himself in writing and producing a true Mande record, performed powerfully in Bambara. A landmark album, "Dugu Wolo" establishes Klein as a folklorist and an unique, significant voice in roots music.
“Malian music, particularly acoustic Mande songs, have an uncanny ability to express in sound not only the fullness of Mali- its people, cultures, the land, the natural rhythms- but the experience of being in Mali,” says Klein. “I find so much of Mande music to be powerful. It cuts to the core and pierces the heart.”
Klein manages to make music just as riveting on "Dugu Wolo". Internalizing his experience of Mali, and utilizing his familiarity with Malian culture and music, Klein’s melodies achieve a similar affect as those of his Malian influences. This album is a pure expression of Mali.
And so Klein turns off the main road once again. Back down a dusty dirt path to the village of Dougouolo. There, in the flatland fields of the drought-ridden sahel, amongst the fields of millet, corn, peanuts, and cotton, beside giant baobab and spindly balanzan trees, Klein ploughs. And here, for you, is the fine, sweet harvest of "Dugu Wolo".
“Klein’s natural tendency as a songwriter is to lean into the dusty and rustic, playing acoustic country with a folk influence. His 2006 debut Distant Music and 2008 follow-up Western Tales & Trails find a songwriter with an easy grip on storytelling and American traditions… Though Klein may be a fish out of water- or a log in a Malian river- he’s found a way to bridge the inspiration he feels in rural West Africa with the sense of community Athens is known for.”
- Chris Hassiotis, Georgia Music Magazine
“Damn good… clean, intimate, and thoroughly inclusive— a work that transcends not only genre, but also geography and culture. Dugu Wolo would fit comfortably as background music in a coffee shop in Athens, GA or a marketplace in Tombouctou, Mali.”
- Carrie Dagenhard, Flagpole Magazine
“A remarkably soulful record, leaving a warm glow in its wake… there is a sublime beauty to the interplay of instruments.. a rather beautiful piece of work.”
- John Davy, Flyin Shoes
“Klein, while singing in Bambara, sounds natural, comfortable. He sounds like who he is: an American deeply steeped in West African music… [Dugu Wolo is] a bridge between two worlds.”
- Scott Stevens, SoundRoots
“Anyone interested in the guitar and blues sounds of Boubacar Traore, Lobi Traore, Ali Farka Toure, Salif Keita, and Toumani Diabate, among others, will find joy and solace in this amazing collection of songs”
- Matthew Forst, Inside World Music
“A beautiful combination of blues, jazz, and acoustic folk with traditional Mandinka music… Dugu Wolo is a piece of music art. “
-Johan Schoenmakers, Altcountryforum
“Purity and tranquility radiate from this album… stunning.”
-Yvo Zels, Rootstime
“His music crosses boundaries… Dugu Wolo is a satisfying album that will be enjoyed by fans of Malian blues.”
-Angel Romero, World Music Central
“For his latest album, Athens’ Americana singer-songwriter Adam Klein went pretty far out of his range — all the way to Mali, where he recorded Dugu Wolo with indigenous talent, singing mostly in the native language, Bambara. Klein’s laid-back approach to vocals suits this scenario nicely, with the results sounding like Amos Lee covering Nana Vasconcelos. When he’s not forging musical alliances in Africa, Klein is heavily involved in the still vital Athens music scene; he’s the co-founder of the Athens Americana music festival..”
-Kevin Oliver, Columbia Free Times