Friday, 27 January 2017

Yishak Banjaw - Love Songs Vol. 2

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 125, March 2017.

Yishak Banjaw
Love Songs Vol. 2
Teranga Beat (46 mins)

In 1986, Yishak Banjaw sat down at home to record an album of traditional Ethiopian music, using a borrowed Casio PT keyboard, live and direct into a single tape player. What he created was a wonderful style that resembles what we’d now call chillwave or minimal wave.

The overall sound of this album is magnificent: the timbres of the melody take on different personalities, from dreamy and Hammond-like to swirling and raspy; layers of repeating patterns add a psychedelic flavour as they float above tinny electric drum beats. Combined with the slightly stretchy and sibilant tone lent by the transfer from cassette, the whole album is given that warm, washed-out vibe so strived for by today’s -wave producers.

And under all of these aesthetics lies a solid base of Ethiopian identity. The tracks are all strongly linked to the culture’s traditional soundworld, and the distinctive pentatonic scales and the melodic rhythms make it difficult to mistake this music’s origin.

With this re-release on the Greek/Senegalese label Teranga Beat, Love Songs Vol. 2 becomes Banjaw’s very first album outside of East Africa. It’s a real treat. Hopefully we will be able to hear Vol. 1 sometime soon!

The KutiMangoes - Made in Africa

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 125, March 2017.

The KutiMangoes
Made in Africa
Tramp Records (46 mins)

The KutiMangoes started with a simple musical goal in mind: Fela Kuti meets Charles Mingus. Such giants in their field are inevitably impossible to live up to, but this Danish five-piece certainly give it a good go.

For their second album, the KutiMangoes are joined by a special guest, Burkinabé vocalist Patrick Kabré. With this collaboration comes the addition of many more influences from Mandé styles. As well as recording in the studio in Copenhagen, sessions were also captured on location in Bamako and Ouagadougou – hence the album’s title.

From that process comes a riotous album. It has some really special touches: you can’t go too wrong with an electric trombone solo, as heard on the track ‘This Ship Will Sink’. Another highlight is ‘Hunting’, a piece based on Malian hunters’ music. Featuring guest Diakaridja Mariko, who provides vocals and donso ngoni (hunter’s harp), it builds up a solid groove with some great interplay between sax and Rhodes.

The addition of Mandé music to Afrobeat works well and sets it apart from the crowd, although the jazz element of the group’s style is downplayed a little here, and only particularly evident now and then. But don’t let that stop you dancing!

Damakase - Gunfan Yellem!

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 125, March 2017.

Gunfan Yellem!
Captain Pouch Records (33 mins)

‘East meets West’ is a common theme within world music fusions, but it’s rare to hear one like this: Damakase’s sound arrives from the blending of Ethiopian and Malian styles. The heart of the band is the collaboration between masenqo (one-string fiddle) player Endris Hassen and guitar and banjo player Cory Seznec (a Franco-American musician who lived in Ethiopia for several years), and their chemistry shines through.

The track ‘Wassorai Asho Mada’ is where the combination is smoothest and most complete. The groove is Mali blues, the beat is Ethiopian, and Hassen’s masenqo jumps between the two, exploring the realms of its West African cousins such as the soku, without ever leaving Ethiopia behind.

That’s just one example of the group’s intelligent and creative use of instrumentation. They’re everywhere: in the Ethiocentric tracks, gourd lute and ngoni take the place of the traditional krar, and there’s some fun bluegrass interplay between banjo and masenqo elsewhere.

Damakase have hit on a great fusion here, with Ethiopia and Mali both having their own very distinct and popular musicalities. The combination has fruit ripe for picking and the group do a good job with it. One wish for the next album: it would be great to hear some West African musicians involved too.