How often do four talented African guitarists come together to play acoustic onstage? Putumayo Records, a unique company, not only brought together such a remarkable supergroup but put them on tour.
"Acoustic Africa's" three main guitarists were Afel Becoum and Habib Koité from Mali and Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe. They were backed by the estimable Mamadou Kelly, Becoum's highly-talented regular guitarist and other musicians.
Becoum is known for his work with Ali Farka Koure, Habib is a prominent singer songwriter who is known for tuning his guitar on a pentatonic scale and playing on open strings as one would on a kamale n'goni, a traditional instrument. At other times, his music sounds more like the blues or flamenco — two styles he studies under mentor Khalilou Traore. Mtukudzi, a Zimbabwe native who still lives under the repressive Mugabe regime, is known for his own musical style, dubbed "Tuku Music" by his fans.
Rounding out the group were Yoro Cisse (another Becoum veteran) playing njurkel, a one-stringed lute, and jdjurkle (monochord), Sam Matauare on percussion and Phillip Tzikirai on mbira.
The ensemble's sound combined a hearty mix of West African and Zimbabwean rhythyms, quite a bit of cleverly staged, extremely colorful costuming, and some back and forth concerning the two cultures. The sight of the three guitarists, rocking back and forth on the stage, was as much a marvel to see as the interplay was to hear.