The West African spike lute or "ngoni" has a history dating back to the 14th century, but Malian griot Bassekou Kouyaté has built a reputation for pushing the ancient instrument into fresh new territory. A virtuoso player who has been developing his skills since he was 12, Kouyaté has spent recent years expanding his chosen instrument's range by adding strings and using guitar effect pedals. Alternating between the spike lute's natural percussive twang and a decidedly modern, fuzz-drenched tone, Kouyaté embraces the kinship between traditional African sounds and the legacy of American blues from Robert Johnson to Jimi Hendrix. With wife Amy Sacko providing hypnotic, ululating vocals, Kouyaté assembled a new lineup of his group Ngoni Ba to capture the politically charged songs heard on their latest album, Jama Ko. Recorded amid the turmoil of a military coup and conflict with Islamic fundamentalists in his native country, the material communicates a passion and urgency that transcends all language barriers.