Restocked. Mali's legendary Rail Band, so named because they were initially sponsored by one of Mali's largest railroad lines, were one of the finest West African pop combos of the 1970s. Unlike their peers in countries like Nigeria and Ghana, the Rail Band eschewed the frenetic rhythms of American soul and funk to concentrate on pioneering an electrified version of traditional Malian manding music. Their sound is dominated by the relaxed, tremolo-laden guitar work of Djelimady Tounkara, who embarks on masterful guitar excursions over the flawless grooves of the Rail Band's gently propulsive rhythm section. This two-disc retrospective contains the entirety of The Rail Band's 1975 masterpiece, Soundiata, and includes a host of other stellar Rail Band tracks from that era. Full-color, 20-page booklet with notes detailing the history of the band and full-page reproductions of original album covers.
The early years, in the Rail Band's case, were not a fledgling period of false starts and awkward first steps. In 1970 a hotel adjacent to the central railway terminal in Bamako, Mali, hired the best musicians in the country to entertain guests, and with the charismatic young Salif Keita as lead singer the band caused an immediate sensation in Bamako and was soon famous throughout Mali and neighboring countries. Its dynamic fusion of jeliya and other traditional Malian forms with rock, blues and Latin music was audacious and brilliant. Its impact is still felt today. Keita went on to start his own group in 1972, but by then Mory Kanté, another talented singer (and balafon player) had joined the Rail Band. Around the same time, a new guitarist, Djelimady Tounkara, also came on board. Tounkara now leads the Super Rail Band, which still plays at the train-station hotel on special occasions when it's not touring the world, and he is widely recognized as one of the greatest guitarists of our time. Salif Keita and Mory Kanté endure among the most highly acclaimed African artists in the world. This three-volume retrospective, Belle Epoque, is organized thematically, not chronologically. Each 2CD volume includes recordings from the historic 14-year span of 1970 to 1983.