in Reviews

In the footsteps of West African griots

by Tove Djupsjöbacka

"At the core of the music are minimalist, addictive riffs and acoustic West African sounds, centred around the balafon," writes Tove Djupsjöbacka about Faso Kan's album Tungaladen.

The band Faso Kan has long been a familiar fixture in the Finnish world music scene, and now its debut album has seen the light of day. The music follows confidently in the footsteps of West African griots, even though the compositions are new and the arrangements their own. The compositions are by Issiaka Dembele, who sings and plays the balafon, kamele ngoni harp and djembe drums. 

Many of Faso Kan’s players are masters of several instruments, which brings a varied texture to its sound. Issa Dembele, who like Issiaka Dembele is originally from Burkina Faso, plays balafon and percussion, while Adama Koné originally from Mali plays balafon, djembe and kora. Rounding out the ensemble are Senegalese-born bassist Pothio Ndiaye and four Finnish musicians: the rich wind section of Jaakko Arola and Mikko Veijonen, Tomi Pekkola’s guitar and djeli ngoni (a stringed instrument), and Ossi Raippalinna’s drums and percussion.

The liner notes succinctly describe the lyrical content of the songs, but there is no more in-depth introduction to the band included for the listener. I would have liked to have read a bit more about the band’s journey together.


Acoustic tones at the core


At the core of the music are minimalist, addictive riffs and acoustic West African sounds, centred around the balafon. More lyrical stringed instruments are also featured, including a solo piece on the kamele ngoni. The saxophone often plays a major role in the arrangements, and the dialogue between Arola’s flute and the vocals on the energetic ‘Faso kan bora’ particularly stands out. As for the drum kit, I especially enjoy the skilful unisono playing in the riffs, while the rhythm flow feels more conventional. It’s great to hear the sound of djembe on its own as well, as in the intro to ‘Yeromu’.

The album does not quite touch me with the greatest sensitivity or deepest feeling, but as a whole, Faso Kan’s rootsy, fresh first debut is a pleasant listen.


Faso Kan: Tungaladen 
Global Music Centre, GMC 2342, 2023


Translation: Wif Stenger