Eric Bibb – ‘Global Griot’ (2018)

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A worldly musician ever since leaving Columbia University for the Parisian music scene in 1970, blues/folk troubadour Eric Bibb has long understood music as being both an expression of culture and the distillation of cultures around the globe. That’s part of what has made his own music have an everlasting quality to it, but no where does his insight into and curiosity about music as a global form of tradition and humanism shine brightest than what’s presented on his latest undertaking, Global Griot.

Getting the point of Global Griot begins with knowing what a griot is, something that Bibb clears up at the top of his brief liner notes:

griot (noun): (in Western Africa) a member of a caste responsible for maintaining an oral record of tribal history in the form of music, poetry and storytelling.

This is an ambitious undertaking spanning two discs, twelve recording studios across seven countries and three continents. There is also a multi-national array of collaborators involved, from Canadian blues legend Harrison Kennedy to Malian world music superstar Habib Koité. No matter where Bibb lays down his tracks, his songs draw its inspiration from all over the world.

Bibb began his association with Habib Koité some fifteen years prior, a growing musical friendship that culminated in the 2012 collaboration Brothers in Bamako. As a guitarist and singer/songwriter who like Bibb covers nearly every corner of roots music, he’s like the Taj Mahal of West Africa. Bibb co-wrote “We Don’t Care” with Koité for Bamako, commenting on our wasteful society. This time given a contemporary luster by UK producer Glen Scott, Koité’s guitar and native language vocal pulls the song eastward toward Africa. “Mami Wata/Sebastian’s Tune” is another Bibb/Koité collaboration but this festive tune is clearly in Koité’s African court.

Another key guest artist on this album is kora player Solo Cissokho, a Senegalese who is an actual griot in the literal sense. “All Because” has an easygoing country flavor to it, but it’s spiced up when Solo Cissokho’s twenty-two stringed harp speaks up. That kora also shows up on “Spirit Day,” as does Cissokho’s vocal singing in presumably a tongue native to his home country of Senegal. Cissokho is also there when Bibb begins to meld West African tones with American folk forms right from the first track “Gathering of the Tribes” and Cissokho’s kora is set against Olli Haavistro’s pedal steel with unexpectedly wonderful results on the instrumental “Picture A New World.”

Bibb’s records have grown increasingly outspoken about social injustices, and he continues to strike the right tone in doing so here. “Wherza Money At” rails against exploitation of the masses set to a rocksteady groove. “Human River” pushes back against Trump and dreams of a “world free from fear and hatred” while “What’s He Gonna Say Today” (video above) takes deadly aim exclusively at the current U.S. President, backed by a clever mixture of rock and country folk blues. Scott — who helmed the board for Bibb’s widely praised Jericho Road — brings a contemporary veneer to Bibb’s “Race & Equality,” but also puts Bibb’s perfectly poignant lyrics front and center.

It’s no accident that Bibb pulled out Big Bill Broonzy’s “Black, Brown & White,” a song of racial disadvantage that continues to ring true and sung together with Kennedy. Harrison sticks around for the decidedly more modern, funky (and upbeat) “Listen for the Spirit,” and Scott applies an appropriately astral resonance for Ed McCurdy’s anti-war folk anthem “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream.”

Gospel always has had a part in Bibb’s musical vocabulary; sometimes it’s explicit such as the eminently catchy, sunshine-glowing “Let God,” and faith also is at the heart of “Send Me Your Jesus.”

Eric Bibb bites off a lot in making Global Griot: going from traditional to modernized, Western to African, spiritual to topical. Oftentimes, he’s putting both ends of each spectrum together. But if there’s anyone who can chew all that up and distill it into a meaningful, articulate document about delivering stories and messages through the universal power of music, it’s this guy.

Global Griot is now on sale from all the usual outlets, from Stony Plain Records.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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