Monday, 22 June 2015

Electro Bamako - Now

First published in fRoots issue 385, July 2015

Electro Bamako
CSB Productions (50 mins)

Phwoar! Now this is an album.

In the sphere of world electronica, collaborations with South Asian and Middle Eastern artists and musics seem to far outweigh those with West Africans, but when it is done (and done right), it can lead to some stonking tracks. Now is from a trio of a Malian (Paul Sidibe) and two Frenchmen (Damien Traini and Marc Minelli), and their collective name is pretty much apt. Electro Bamako create music that crosses through electronica, funk and underground rock, but always present are the urban Malian grooves that make the project as exciting as it is.

Bringing to the table guitars and production, Minelli has been experimenting with electroMalian music and collaborations for more than a decade now, but with the Electro Bamako trio and this album, he seems to have found the correct combination, and it’s his best yet.

As well as his unmistakably Malian vocals, Sidibe joins the party by adding his kamele ngoni (literally, the ‘young man’s harp’) to the sound. The kamele ngoni’s rattling staccato riffs, together with the karignan (iron scraper), bring the western elements together, uniting them with Wassoulou music – the non-griot style made famous in Europe by Oumou Sangaré.

The real highlight of the album comes at the end: Fentiki Ni Fentan is the last of the album tracks proper (the disc also contains three radio edits), and is really superb – it has a backing worthy of old-school hip-hop and the whole thing rolls around hypnotically, it’s a shame when it comes to a close and signals the end of a brilliant album.

Prince Buju - We Are In The War

First published in fRoots issue 385, July 2015

Prince Buju
We Are In The War
Makkum Records/Red Wig (48 mins)

Prince Buju hails from the North East Region of Ghana and plays the kologo, a two-stringed lute related to the ngoni, and sharing common ancestry with the banjo. This album is entirely solo – and it’s not one of those fancy multi-track one-man-band things, every track is a single-take affair with only Prince Buju and his kologo.

Almost all of this release is taken from Buju’s debut Ghanaian cassette, which was released in 2011 under the title Roots And Culture Music. The only newly-recorded piece here is the title track. This version of the album retains the feeling of a local-market cassette, and not only because of the soft hiss that remains behind most of the tracks: the recent trend for cassettes has brought a refreshing slew of international music that hasn’t been ‘world musicked’ and Buju’s sound is no exception.

Much of the album’s associated literature talks up Buju’s links to King Ayisoba, a fellow Ghanaian kologo player, but Buju’s music feels even more rootsy. It’s great to hear the no-nonsense, bluesy riffs with Buju’s high-pitched yet gritty voice sing about personal and local matters, which all give the record a sense of that allusive, ill-defined but most important ‘authenticity’.

The manner in which the kologo is played means that all the tracks included here from the original cassette remain in one key – it’s a rather insignificant thing, but for someone who is used to albums using a variety of keys (which, when you think about it, is kind of arbitrary) this can grate slightly, with the ear becoming tired. But this is a very small issue. Don’t expect overly much from the production values and this could be an album that you really dig.

Monday, 15 June 2015

LaBrassBanda - Europa

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 109, July 2015.

Sony Music (56 mins)

This is a re-release of the Bavarian brass-band-cum-techno-outfit’s second album, although why a record that has only been out for two years needs a re-release, I’m not quite sure.

The brass side of the group takes the most influence from Bavarian and Balkan styles, with a few hints of New Orleans brass, and although in other albums and live the band explore ska punk, reggae and other genres, here they focus more on the poppy side of techno.

Occasionally, their blend of Europop synths and drum machines with brass can produce good individual tracks, such as the stand-out ‘Frankreich’, but throughout most of the album, the fusion seems pretty unimaginative and not particularly enjoyable, either. At times the music can be literally painful too: don’t listen to the track ’Schweden’ with headphones – the heavily-panned kick drum would make anyone queasy. Frankly, this is a bit of a bizarre re-release of a recent album that isn’t the group’s best. Catch them live instead.

Djeli Moussa Condé - Womama

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 109, July 2015.

Djeli Moussa Condé
Buda Musique (43 mins)

Hailing from Guinea, living in Paris and with spiritual roots in Mali and Gambia, Djeli Moussa Condé’s experience is one that will be familiar to many West Africans (especially griots) living in France. As such, the music on this, Condé’s second solo release, reflects himself as a citizen of many countries. Condé provides lead vocals, guitar and kora backed by a French band and with several West African guest musicians. European influences sit next to and within the West African styles easily, and the album journeys through reggae, jazz and funk without ever leaving the Mandé influence behind.

The album is strongest during its more Latin phases, such as the tracks ‘La Salsa Africana’ and ‘Palma’ (an ode to the Balearic city), and the disco Afrobeat piece ‘African Bond’ is great fun, managing to be both cheesy and extremely funky at the same time.

There are no weak tracks on this album as such, but there does seem to be a fair bit of filler: pieces that are listenable but essentially unexciting. Nevertheless, this is a good album, and the stand-out tracks are worth wading through some of the less interesting ones.