||Most casual fans of Malian music will know of him only through his recent guest appearances on Taj Mahal's 1999 album Kulanjan, on which The Blues met their Malian counterparts and got on famously. Or maybe you heard his clear unaffected tenor on the Songhai 2 album he recorded in 1994 with Toumani Diabaté.
But Kasse Mady's story goes back to the early seventies, when he began singing with Super Mande one of many bands benefitting from the same kind of government patronage that had facilitated such a smooth ride to fame for Bembeya Jazz in neighbouring Guinea a few years earlier. After helping them to win the 1973 Biennale festival, he was head hunted by Las Maravillas de Mali, a group which had just returned from eight years in Cuba.
Las Maravillas had changed their name to National Badema du Mali in around 1976, but by the mid eighties, their big band style was no longer in vogue. Kasse Made joined the growing ranks of West African musicians emigrating to try their luck in Paris, where he made two solo albums. Fode (1989) was a patchy hi-tech affair, followed a year later by the more satisfying acoustic Kela Tradition, which included a suspenseful epic version of the ancient song Kulanjan.
But Paris wasn't kind to Kasse Mady and after a period of career doldrums, he returned to Mali in 1998, where a resurgence of interest in traditional acoustic music was in full swing. The success of the Kulanjan project paved the way for the making of the strongly autobiographical Kassi Kasse, recorded in his home town of Kela an especially musical place whose residents are almost all griots.
Along with old tunes from village folklore, Kasse Mady revisits songs from his earlier career in unplugged style, including a couple of Cuban flavoured numbers from the Las Maravillas era. Toumani Diabaté makes a typically stylish guest appearance on kora, and apart from familiar Malian sounds such as the banjo-like n'goni and balafon (wooden xylophone) Kassi Kasse features the mysterious and little heard simbi (hunter¹s harp). But in place of the local bass harp (bolon), there is the subtle sophistication of Buena Vista Social Club bass player Orlando Cachaito López. Best of all, Kasse Mady sings with the kind of conviction that only comes when an artist feels at home. And that's because he is.
Jon Lusk 2002