Legend has it that an American country bluesman could go to a crossroads at midnight and sell his soul to the devil, in return for which he’d receive supernatural musical talent. More recently, African musicians like Youssou N’Dour and Salif Keita have been going to North America or Europe in pursuit of international stardom–and the bargains they strike there are no less Faustian. By trading in their indigenous sounds for slick, anonymous pop production, complete with drum machines and synthesizers, they may end up with a more marketable product, but they kill the music’s soul. The members of Badenya–Les Freres Coulibaly have made the same trip–they left their hometown of Bobo Dioulasso, in Burkina Faso, to record their latest album, Seniwe (Trace), in Geneva, Switzerland–but they turned the devil down. They use electronic keyboards and programmed percussion on only two of the disc’s dozen tracks; the rest of the record preserves the warm timbres and vivid presence of musicians singing and drumming together in real time, rather than sitting in isolation booths and laying down their tracks one by one. Badenya’s deeply rooted traditionalism doubtless has something to do with the three brothers at the group’s core: they belong to a family of griots, and it’s their filial duty to perpetuate that heritage. The eldest, Souleymane Coulibaly, sings about the tension between traditional and modern ways; his younger siblings, twin brothers Ousseni and Lassina, either answer his call with robust unison chants or bolster his leads with hearty harmonies, joined by their niece Mariam. The seven-piece band is rounded out by three nephews, who along with their uncles beat out complex, kinetic patterns on djembe, tama (talking drum), and dundun (a tapered bass drum with a head on each end). They embroider these polyrhythms with cyclical melodies played on balafon (marimba), ngoni (lute), and bara (a large hand drum with two “ears,” each hung with tiny bells, sticking up from its rim). Sunday, September 2, 4 PM, African Festival of the Arts (see sidebar for complete schedule), Washington Park, 55th and Cottage Grove; 773-955-2787.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Veronique Nosbaum.