LONDON Malian ngoni player Bassekou Kouyate, whose album "Jama Ko" urged his countrymen to stand together just as Mali erupted in conflict, has won the Best Artist accolade in the annual awards for world music magazine Songlines.
Tuareg band Tamikrest, who decried the ravages of the war in their album "Chatma", won the Best Group category.
"Given what happened in Mali in the past year and a half, it's not a surprise that two of these awards go to Malian artists," Songlines Editor-in-Chief Simon Broughton said.
"I'm pleased that it's Malians from other ends of the country," he told Reuters, referring to different fronts in the conflict.
The Best Cross-Cultural Collaboration award went to Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora (harp-lute)player Seckou Keita.
Best Newcomer was Family Atlantica, a London-based band led by Venezuelan singer Luzmira Zerpa which brings together the music of Africa and Latin America.
Kouyate, who plays the banjo-like ngoni and wears flowing robes on stage, has been a mainstay of the Malian music scene for years. He and his band, Ngoni ba, which features his two sons, were recording "Jama Ko" in the capital Bamako when a coup took place in March 2012.
"The title track is a call to Malians to pull together. After that it all fell apart, but it shows the urgency of the message. It made him a statesman figure," Broughton said.
"He comes from a traditional griot (story teller) background and it shows him as a contemporary griot, a voice of the country. There's a rather regal presence about him too. Musically its gorgeous. Lovely arrangements, great songs. A political manifesto."
The coup in Mali was followed by chaos and an Islamist take-over of the country's north which saw music banned in towns taken over by hardliners. A Tuareg separatist revolt also spread
before a French military force intervened to restore order.
Tamikrest are one of a number of politically motivated Tuareg bands who followed in the wake of the ordinal Sahara desert bluesmen, Tinariwen. Now based in Algeria, they see themselves as distinct from Malians.
Their album "Chatna", desert rock mixed with funk and dub, is dedicated to Tuareg women and features the keening vocals of woman singer Wonou Walet Sidati.
"It's nice that given what happened in Mali last year, they brought this album out that looks at the women, talks about the problems that these conflicts bring and that it's the women who often have to deal with them in many ways," Broughton said.
"It's quite a poignant record. There's thread of sadness that runs through it."
VALLEYS AND SLAVE ROUTES
At first glance an unlikely combination, harpist Finch and kora player Keita seamlessly blend the music of the Welsh Valleys and Senegal. A big hit at last year's Womad event, they have since played at festivals all over the world.
"As soon as I heard the record I knew this was something special. There is a filigree delicacy. Usually in these fusions they are opposites but here you can't tell who is doing what."
"The thing that makes this is the personalities of the musicians that they get on so well," Broughton said.
Newcomer award winners Family Atlantic are earning a reputation as a terrific live band, fronted by the flamboyant, Zerpa, with her extravagant costumes and dances, and featuring Londoner Jack Yglesias and Nigeran-Ghanaian Kwame Crenstil.
Their music is rooted in the African Diaspora and both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
"It's Africa meets South America meets London...the classic slave trade routes. They're really fun but they make a musical point about the connection. It is telling a musical narrative," Broughton said.
More than 8,000 Songlines readers from 65 different countries voted for the awards shortlist, with the editorial board deciding the final winners. The magazine celebrates its 100th edition with the issue announcing the awards.
(Editing by Michael Roddy and Jeremy Gaunt) nL6N0N752E