It’s been a long time since I’ve looked forward to a new album quite as eagerly as I’ve awaited this debut from Hungarian-born kora-playing singer-songwriter Sophie Lukacs.
The four singles she’s released over the past two years have heralded a totally unique talent, whose lyrics sound as if they were plucked from her private thoughts during moments of intense longing and sung like wistful soliloquies delivered before a night sky – the harp-like kora elevating her stunningly beautiful melodies.
It was “Falling” that first introduced us to Sophie’s intimate, Stevie Nicksish vocals and her ability to convey complex feelings about love and relationships through deceptively simple poetry – in this case the joy and trepidation of falling in love.
“Too Many Times,” about the injustices of long-distance relationships, revealed her ability to craft melodic hooks that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.
“Forama,” written in Baramba and featuring joyful harmonies by Awa Kasse Mady Diabate, demonstrated Sophie’s esteem among Malian musical royalty and her ability to hold her own alongside them.
And “Before You,” featuring Habib Koite, a lament over the loss of Sophie’s cherished independence to a relationship with an ambivalent partner, was all of the above in a single song.
Bamako pairs those four numbers with four more that showcase even more aspects of Sophie’s artistic personality: the composer, the creative risk-taker, and the artist in touch with her roots.
The album’s lone instrumental, “Cité El Farako,” has such a lullaby-like quality to it, one could easily overlook the virtuosity Sophie exhibits with her lightning fast and precise plucking of the kora strings.
Her gentle, lilting cover of the Hungarian folk song “Tavaszi Szel,” pairs violin – her original instrument of study – alongside her kora to lovely effect.
And the only other English-language song on the album, “Dream of Love,” marries kora with saxophone by Juno nominee Jesse Ryan. And yes, that works beautifully too.
Bamako may be Sophie’s debut album, but it’s the kind of record many more established artists could only dream of releasing.
The song-craft, the lyricism, the virtuosity, the variety, the beauty of the vocals – every aspect is exquisite.
And at just eight songs, it cleverly leaves the listener wanting more.
Sophie Lukacs album launch concerts:
- April 25 – Drom Taberna, Toronto
- April 26 – Jazz Bistro, Toronto
- April 30 – Shenkman Arts Centre, Ottawa
- May 3 – Le Ministere, Montreal