Eric Bibb is on a musical mission with Global Griot

Eric Bibb: Global Griot (Dixiefrog)

Two-time Grammy-nominee and multiple BMA winner, Eric Bibb, has over 30 albums in a career that spans more than 40 years. His latest 2-CD release, Global Griot, which has been nominated Best Acoustic Album at the 40th Blues Music Awards, is arguably his best work and ought to win the globe-trotting troubadour a Grammy in due course.

Bibb explains the idea of a Global Griot in the 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.

He explains that the album is a collaboration with musicians from legendary West African griot families – notably Malian world music star, Habib Koité and kora player (a 21 stringed harp) from Senegal, Solo Cissokho. There are also appearances from a host of other fine musicians as well, including Canadian blues maestros, Harrison Kennedy and Michael Jerome Browne (who plays the fretless gourd banjo), and long-standing guitar sideman, Staffan Astner. Ulrika Bibb, Paris Renita, Linda Tillery and internationally renowned Jamaican singer, Ken Boothe, bring their own vocal excellence to the mix.

This ambitious musical project needed twelve recording studios across seven countries and three continents with ten different producers. It’s a truly international, multicultural effort. Which is entirely in keeping with Eric Bibb’s inspirational, inclusive approach to his craft. For Bibb, the human family is one and his musical mission is to promote a message of tolerance, love and unity.

This message comes through loud and clear in Global Griot, as Bibb both bemoans the state of the world and appeals for unity, all quite explicitly done, yet without rancour or anger, and all the time stressing the need for spirituality and divine assistance. We’ve got to “listen for the Spirit in the music,” and let it “guide you home.” (Listen for the Spirit) and “let God do the things we can’t do” (Let God).

What’s He Gonna Say Today sees Bibb take on number 45 in caustic comments about his incessant, lying and inane tweeting – “he’s like a bully in the playground, spoiling everybody’s game.” In Wherezamoney At, Bibb focuses his attention on government corruption, in a hard-hitting song featuring the vocals of Kwame Yeboah and the percussive rhythms of Sekou Cissokho.  Our obsession with comfort and convenience, no matter the cost to others in our connected world, comes under scrutiny in We Don’t Care – “we don’t care what the world agreed on in Kyoto…take 30 minute showers, while the well runs dry.”

Big Bill Broonzy’s Brown, Black and White serves for Bibb to cover the continuing plague of racism. “If you’s white, you’s all right…if you’re black, brother, get back, get back, get back.” Bibb makes sure we understand it’s as timely as when Broonzy recorded it in 1951, by changing the original lyric “What you gonna do about the old Jim Crow?” to “What you gonna do about the new Jim Crow?” With Harrison Kennedy’s vocals and Michael Jerome’s guitar work, this is as fine a version as you’ll hear. We get some more on this theme in Bibb’s own Race and Equality – “In God’s eyes we are united.”

This lament for the state of the world is tempered by Bibb’s ever present optimism and good humour. There’s a great feel-good factor in many of the songs as he gently coaxes us towards our better selves, towards unity and compassion. “Hoist up the banner of humanity,” he sings; “drink the pure water of forgiveness, sing the sweet song of mercy”; “no matter where you are, near or far…remember family.” With a delightful melding of African rhythms and musicianship with a more familiar rootsy feel, you find yourself persuaded by Bibb’s sense of hope, despite the problems he and we know are there. The ethereal version of Ed McCurdy’s Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream take us into the wild territory of hoping for an end to war and somehow in Bibb’s hands it doesn’t seem such an impossible dream.

On the theme of the need for God’s help, we get a version of the Bibb staple, Needed Time, gently driven by Solo Cissokho’s kora playing. And let’s not forget the traditional Michael Row the Boat Ashore which Bibb is able to rescue from familiarity into a beautiful, aspirational spiritual, entirely in keeping with the rest of the album.

The album is something of a masterpiece, both musically and lyrically. It defies classification – rootsy, bluesy, but decidedly world-embracing, it is a fine coherent collection of songs, with beautiful arrangements and stunning musicianship, all held together by Bibb’s inimitably warm and positive style.