Miki N’Doye: Tuki (ECM 1971)


Miki N´Doye

Miki N’Doye kalimba, tamma, m’balax, bongo, vocals
Jon Balke keyboards, prepared piano
Per Jørgensen trumpet, vocals
Helge Andreas Norbakken percussion
Aulay Sosseh vocals
Lie Jallow vocals
Recorded 2003-2005 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Kjartan Meinseth
Mixing: Jan Erik Kongshaug, Kjartan Meinseth, and Miki N’Doye
Produced by Miki N’Doye and Jon Balke

Tuki is the song of one given to many. As the ECM leader debut of master drummer Momodou “Miki” N’Doye, it houses multiple fates under one roof and collates them into discernible rhythms and voices. N’Doye hails from Gambia, where in the mid-70s he met Norwegian musician Helge Linaae. This encounter brought him to Oslo, where, after coming into contact with such influential movers as Jon Balke, his future as shaker in the far north was secured. Later projects led him to the company of Per Jørgensen, as part of the band Tamma. He was also fortunate enough to collaborate with Ed Blackwell and Don Cherry in the twilight of their careers. N’Doye has since lent his signature to a number of sonic happenings, many with Balke at the helm. In the latter vein, one feels his presence most vividly on Batagraf’s Statements. Tuki joins him once again with Balke and associates, adding to those ranks Gambian vocalists Aulay Sosseh and Lie Jallow, also fixtures in the Scandinavian scene.

In spite of the associations one might attach to N’Doye’s traditions, it is important to avoid mythologizing this music. The elements of which it is composed come straight from the ground, as is apparent in the introductory incantation, which enlivens the air with its percussive kalimba framework, a running theme (and sound) throughout the album’s winding path. At this point the music is still a hut without thatch, a stick frame that allows wind to flow through and speaks of habitation before its walls and roof are fleshed. Thus is the album’s space set up and rendered, given shape by hand and mouth.

Indeed, the improvisational song-speech of “Jahlena,” “Osa Yambe,” and the title track follows the sun’s path without deviation, effectively compressing an entire day into few minutes’ time. Yet N’Doye verbalizes most through his kalimba, the buzz and twang of which form a rougher though no less perfect circle throughout. Pay close attention, for example, to “Kokonum,” and you will hear that he plays the thumb piano as if speaking. Communicative impulses come about through every contact of body and instrument. With stamping of feet and drinking of rain, Jørgensen’s trumpet is now a vulture, now a snake, blind yet attuned to every blade of grass. Jørgensen casts similar atmospheric nets wherever he appears, traveling between the musicians with a rounded blade that bonds even as it severs. Balke’s ambience, for the most part, flickers at camp center. His presence meshes best at the piano, pairing intuitively with kalimba—for what is the former if not the latter’s simulacrum?

Intermingling of the acoustic and the electric, which admittedly takes some getting used to, reaches noticeable synergy in “Loharbye.” In its cage one may hear Scott Solter, a little Jon Hassell, and of course Batagraf rattling around to organic effect. Such transmogrifications speak to the power of context to join continents. In light of this, you may want to check out Statements for a broader sense of the possibilities. N’Doye is more of a storyteller than a singer, and his kalimba loops are minimalist at best. That said, in that repetition is a mending impulse, one that takes a broken mirror and makes it whole. All of this to reiterate that Tuki should not be misconstrued as a ceremony for our anthropological scrutiny, but taken rather an invitation to sing, to speak, to dance as we are.

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