Enamoured of the kora, the 500-year-old calabash-and-cowskin chordophone championed by, among others, the celebrated Toumani Diabaté, Bogotá’s Gabriel Bass has spent most of the last decade exploring how far afield he can range with the scintillating tones of the West African instrument’s 21 thumb-plucked strings. Bass uses the kora as a divining rod, seeking out the underground streams where truly a world’s worth of music flows together.
The African aspect is often present, if subtly. Lyrics are in Spanish, English and, on the darkly funny “Kultíve Konscienca”, Portuguese. There are hints of earnest American hipster indie-folk (“Kids”, “Kompunction”), and Asian accents on the final track, “Kambuche”. Of course, being Colombiano, Bass can’t pass up a cumbia number, and there’s a nice one here.
Bass and his bandmates Camilo Velásquez and Efren Ramirez, who bring all kinds of other instruments into play discreetly but effectively, put some serious effort into reaching a hypernational, universal kind of music. Kultívate thus has its share of moments in which Bass and company achieve a whole greater than the sum of its reference points, beautiful, gregarious music that’s genuinely without borders.