The music is 180 BPM. The style calls itself "crazy." Even as other club music styles accelerate, will this overtake them all?
DJ Diaki is a longtime exponent of Balani Show, a term that refers to both the music and the soundsystem parties in Bamako, one of Africa's fastest-growing cities, where you'll hear it. The genre electrifies tradition. It's based on samples of the balafon (or bala), an ancient wooden xylophone at the heart of Mali's rich musical heritage. The balafon is usually played by griots, descendants of a centuries-old tradition of hereditary musicianship. In the '90s, the instruments were often amplified for party occasions, but when cassettes came along DJs saw an opportunity to bring pre-recorded balafons to their stage: much more economical than hiring a real-life musician. The arrival of tapes, followed by CDJs and other music software, saw DJs take a more active role in the music, incorporating drum pads and synthesizers, plus influences from Ivorian coupé décalé and US hip-hop.
DJ Diaki, real name Diaki Kone, who's been on the scene since the late '90s, spices up his own sets with live remixes that he calls Balani Fou: "Crazy Balani." Balani Fou begins with "But Show DD 1 Mix," a title that reveals the freestyle nature of his recordings. He offers no preamble—within 20 seconds, Diaki lands multiple killer blows. Though he's theoretically sprinting at 180 BPM, there are probably 1,000 drum hits crammed into the grid, piled up in impossible stacks and collapsing into chaotic buzz. Diaki is more weather god than composer, stirring up a maelstrom of clippy samples, thunderous drums and claps that land like hailstones. The synthetic percussion is harsh and unrelenting, a kind of aural exfoliation that leaves your mind refreshingly smooth and blank.
Some tracks are gentler. "Calaman Top Mix DD 2019" opens with a chirpy phrase, repeated until hypnosis. "Shekey Mix" and "Diablo Mix" both have melodies of a kind. But that's not what this record is about. This is maximalism as applied by steamroller. Earlier Balani Show exports—specifically a 2014 compilation on Sahel Sounds and a rap-heavy record by Supreme Talent Show—are left in the dust.
The absorption of multiple streams of African electronic music into a western club milieu has been patchy. Where styles like kwaito and gqom have slotted into house and bass idioms, and kuduro has made an impact via diasporic scenes like the one in Lisbon, the harder and faster styles—like Shangaan electro and the emergent singeli sound from Dar Es Salaam—haven't easily found a foothold. When they do appear, they're often an anomalous peak in a DJ set from which it's hard to climb down. But with the current vogue for speedy techno and other hard dance sounds, along with the interest in singeli and other belting East African sounds, Diaki's Crazy Balani couldn't have smashed its way to the dance floor at a better time.