AfroCubism are a supergroup with a history that would make any publicist drool, and an album that almost does justice to their considerable talents. Fourteen years ago, the Malian guitarist Djelimady Tounkara and n’goni player Bassekou Kouyate were supposed to fly to Cuba to take part in the sessions that produced the legendary Buena Vista Social Club.
They never turned up, which was perhaps just as well for those Cubans who became international celebrities late in life, thanks to a bestselling album that didn’t need African input.
But now the collaboration has taken place, at last, with Djelimady and Bassekou joined by other more newly celebrated Malians, including kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté and singer Kassé Mady Diabaté working alongside the Cuban Buena Vista star Eliades Ochoa and his band.
They have recorded an elegant, gently exquisite album, and it’s a reminder that while Malians are at ease playing Cuban songs – which have been popular for decades across West Africa – Cubans are not so familiar with the griot tradition. But the collaboration works. There are some classy and varied tracks, from Tounkara showing off his guitar skills on Djelimady Rumba and the Cuban favourite La Culebra, through to Bassekou and Ochoa mixing Malian and Cuban influences in their reworking of Jarabi, and Bassekou, Toumani and Ochoa providing a delicate improvisation around the well-worn Guantanamera. If these great musicians stay together, they are surely capable of even more.