It's hard to believe that Habib Koité & Bamada have only released three albums over the course of eight years together -- that's a remarkably small output for an African artist. But they've played a lot of gigs, and made themselves into one of the best units around, managing the excellent feat of sounding contemporary with (mostly) traditional instrumentation, and keeping a Malian feel throughout the music, from early polemic hit "Cigarette Abana" onward. It's a pan-Malian sound, not drawing from any single regional tradition, but perfectly at home using calabash, kamele n'goni, and balafon together. The effect is wonderful, especially as he's surrounded himself with crack musicians who love to improvise, and use each song as a springboard to simply play -- only two cuts on this double CD are under five minutes, and five stretch past the ten-minute mark without ever seeming too long. There's nothing new in the material here, but that's fine; these performances show what a craftsman Koité is as a writer. He's no slouch as a guitarist either (he taught the instrument for several years) as he shows several times during the discs. Fluid and imaginative, his very Malian style referencing a few Western ideas, but different enough to keep the ears pulled back. Everyone gets a good workout on the lengthy "Kunfeta," where the band is introduced, and abilities really come to the fore, before the quieter encore "Takamba." Recorded in various European countries during 2002, this confirms Koité as a major Afro-pop star, someone who can hold his own on-stage with anyone in the world.