Dakar Audio Club; Exeter’s African Secret

Such is the universal beauty of Bandcamp, one goes exploring music from another continent and discovers something sublime, from only ninety miles down the M5!

If it’s unlikely there’s an Exeter Audio Club in Senegal, there’s certainly a Dakar Audio Club in Devon, whereby afrobeat fusion knows no boundaries. I mean, I went searching for soukous, more Congolese rhumba-influenced than the dance music mbalax of Senegal, popularised by Youssou N’Dour, but when it boils down to the nitty-gritty, usage of the afrobeat blanket term averts erroneously pigeonholing outside Africa. Providing it’s got exotic riffs and danceable beats, I’m game, and the Dakar Audio Club certainly ticks those boxes.

If mbalax isn’t as frenetic as soukous, Dakar Audio Club partially reflects this; it rocks steady, offering euphoric soundscapes, citing Malian blues, Ghanan highlife and reggae, as well as soukous as key ingredients to its unique melting pot; afro-fusion.

Not put off by the algebra title, B+W is their second full album, released last year, but I’m mentioning it now because I’ve just discovered it, and love shines when tropical ambience washes up on our shores. Viability of catching a band live is problematic for world music fans, unless you’re an international jetsetter or, as is here, the mountain welcomely comes to Muhammad.

They boast as a seven-piece band formed with members from Senegal, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, UK and Ireland. The latter evident in the most diverse track Lines in Desert, which occupies an experimental place between their house style and something particularly eighties two-tone, English pop of The Selecter or Specials. To the untrained ear you’d be excused for imagining this might be Paul Simon’s Graceland influenced by north-western territories rather than South Africa, dashed with Can’t Stand Losing You from The Beat. That said, N’Dour featured on Graceland, so who’s splitting hairs?

Throughout the remaining eight tracks, though, which are far less European sounding, the subtle reggae element is more dub than ska, perhaps nodding to the resistance rhythms of Thomas Mapfumo and chimurenga, as this beautiful album offers hypnotic beats and melodic rhythms, encasing the blend, gorgeously and nimbly executed. In this comes my point, it’s engaging, moreish, absolutely divine and doesn’t stand on convention of any particular genre, which isn’t quintessentially necessary locally anyway.

In a pretend word, it’s Womad-tastic, opening with a jazzy track Howmoco, in which you should imagine as if The Brand-New Heavies were from Zimbabwe, the second tune wears a similar suit, immersing you in the hypnotical rhythm of their wholesale style. Next is aforementioned Paul Simon does Two-Tone Lines in Desert. Buganala though skanks perhaps more, really displaying the reggae influence inherit in many contemporary African genres. Nea Wurri Solo comes over township jive, whereas standout track Dancing The Moonlight, sounds like the soukous I was looking for, though steel drums add a Caribbean influence here, and there’s a club fashioned remix on offer as a single too.

From there we are treated to a continuation of this gorgeous melting pot of tropical sounds and rhythms, which will bring sunshine into your life on the cloudiest of days. By the penultimate Amuul Solo, I’m too locked into the flow to bother with categorisation as it wobbles with dub reverbs, but casts the hypnotic seven riffs of Africa, in accordance with Hugh Masekela, with a blissful ambient finale.

I confess, if I have an area of expertise, African music isn’t it, but least I know what I love, and this is it! It’s one those you have to listen to and get lost in yourself, so do it, and brighten up your Sunday!


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Tuareggae; Bombino is the African Hendrix

In conventional record shops of yore, albeit some survived, you’d find the mainstream alphabetically presented, and it’d be a dare on to yourself to venture to separate genres. They were usually labelled thus; Reggae, Classical, Easy Listening, and World, perhaps Blues too. While some conveniently slip into a standardised genre, others must have had grey areas. But, surely the most diverse was “World,” as if every remaining country in the world except the one you live in, and probs America, sounds the same, and furthermore, you’d be some kind of beatnik pseudoscientist weirdo to even contemplate browsing there.

It’s all so vague, and without the music industry pushing, a minefield of guestimation. I was fairly young when I figured there’s a world of music we’re not exposed to, pop was the tip of an iceberg. I dipped my head under, but it was freezing with typecasts, impossible to know where to search to find something affable.

Today, and thank goodness, the internet is a universal reference library, there are no excuses for not thinking outside your geographical sphere. But with anything foreign to your ears, you need to unlearn your ingrained judgements, and listen with an open mind. Rarely something comes along so exclusive and diverse, but with a familiar element to comfort you.

On November 27th Partisan Records will release, Niger-born Tuareg guitar virtuoso Bombino’s first live album as a solo artist, Live in Amsterdam. I’ve had this unique marvel on play for a while now, and if you’re put off by the presumption any African music never relates to our rock music, this could be the introduction to a world outside said sphere.

The ingenious part of this album, other than the atmospheric quality of a live performance, and Bombino’s sublime proficiently with a guitar, is the rich musical palette. It rings with genres you’re accustomed to, shards of funky soul and reggae, which often come into play in African music, but the man, I swear to you now, is the African Jimi Hendrix, so bluesy rock is prominent.

Tuareggae is his self-penned, totally unique genre to define it. The “Tuar” part derives from his own people, the Tuareg people, a Berber ethnic confederation of nomadic pastoralists, which populate the Sahara in a vast area stretching from far southwestern Libya to southern Algeria, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. So, what we have here is principally a fusion of these accepted European and American genres with this brand of North African folk.

Just as a bhangra-pop hybrid now appeases western ears, Bombino has something which will placate any preconditioned aversion of African musical styles. In fact, the untrained ear might liken it something Eastern, or middle eastern at least, as it is spoken in Bombino’s native tongue. Note though, his on-the-record fans includes Keith Richards, Stevie Wonder, and Robert Plant, and if it’s good enough for them……

This album will not only challenge your presumptions, it’ll do so while drifting you on gorgeous a journey of musical greatness akin to any known bluesman. Bombino knows precisely what buttons to press to evoke a mood, it can drift down a river at times, it can explode into up-tempo funk, but its ambience is awe-inspiring throughout.

Recorded in November of 2019, while Bombino and his band were touring behind his acclaimed latest studio album Deran. Live In Amsterdam is dedicated to the loving memory of long time Bombino rhythm guitarist and vocalist Illias Mohamed Alhassane, who sadly and suddenly passed away in September. The recording, then, features Illias in his final performance with his ‘brothers’ in Bombino’s band. Yet, you need no background, not really, if you’re looking for something different, but with shards of something familiar, if you like either blues, reggae, rock or funk, or if you want to be taken on a musical journey beyond your usual perimeters, Bombino is your newfound gem. You don’t have to thank me, but you will; I’m here all week.


Two Man Ting Bring Sunshine to the Southgate Today

Winding up their “mini tour,” after last night’s gig at Salisbury’s Winchester Gate, world/reggae duo, Two Man Ting appear at Devizes Southgate for an afternoon session from 4 to 6pm.

Midlands Jon Lewis and Sierra Leonian Jah-Man Aggrey, are a branch of world dance collective Le Cod Afrique, who play a cheerful combination of multicultural roots-pop. A welcome addition to the Southgate’s continuing mission to provide a diverse range of live music to Devizes; and a grand job they’re making of it!

With Aggrey’s bright, chatty vocals and bongos, and Lewis’s acoustic guitar picking, this promises to be something great and wholly different around these waters. They’ve done the festival scene from Womad and Glasto to the Montreux Jazz Festival & Glastonbury, and their acclaimed album “Legacy” has been much featured on BBC Radio 3 & BBC 6 Music.

Should be a good ‘un!

Grupo Lokito Brings a Cuban-Congolese Fusion to Devizes Arts Festival

Images by Gail Foster

 

Can’t come out to play today, despite the finale of Devizes Arts Festival is all totally free. Three fringe events across town; The Hot Club (opps, nearly typed hot-tub then) at the Three Crowns at 1pm, Josephine Corcoran reading her poems and an open-mike session at the Vaults at 5pm and last, but not least, they’ve Circu5 closing the festival at the Cellar Bar, Bear Hotel at 8pm.

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For me, what’s been the best Devizes Arts Festival line-up ever, came to an explosive and marvellous conclusion last night when the Corn Exchange filled with the absolutely unique and gorgeous sound of Grupo Lokito. A packed Saturday night of the widest demographic you’d expect in Devizes, proves word is out; they’ve made a fool of anyone who attains this pompous, straitlaced pigeonhole they’ve so wrongly picked up. It has been a surfeit of talented and quality entertainment, amazingly diverse, and something our town should be very proud of.

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My thanks and praises go to all the organisers, who’ve worked their socks off but retained a smile and positive attitude throughout. So as the band members of Grupo Lokito mingled in the foyer, there was an atmosphere of delight for if this sundry group blend into a city’s world music setting, they were certainly a breath of fresh air in Devizes.

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The further away our ears travel from our perceived impressions of music, taken from what we’re exposed to at home, the harder it is, I think, to pinpoint and define the variety of styles. That’s what makes world music so fascinating. But, without recognisable covers or pastiches, and such a free-flowing sound, it does make a review somewhat tricky to write. Not helped by our brilliantly informative interview with Grupo’s keyboardist and manager Sara McGuiness, who outlined the nature of the band’s style.

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It intrigued me, Sara labelling the sound of the Buena Vista Social Club nostalgic and polarized, despite its positive effect in spreading Cuban music, to just how this night was going to go down. Indeed, Salsa dance classes had congregated, with their magnificently sassy style and gracefully romantic moves, yet I questioned if the music fitted. Salsa dancing tends to make use of traditional Rhumba, this was definably not. It was contemporary dance, do-what-ever-you-like dance, so while the salsa dancers didn’t look out of place, some arbitrarily bobbed along (myself included) and others tried to mimic the frontmen’s choregraphed hip movements, like guests on the Generation Game, none of it mattered. The concentration was on pure enjoyment of this glorious and peripheral style of music and it was thus.

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Evenly paced throughout, I observed this Cuban-Congolese fusion ecstatically. Noticing African sounds, like township jive in a particular tune, only for the next to be decidedly Cuban, and what followed them, a curiously exciting blend of the two to the point it neither mattered nor favoured one over the other; it’s just marvellous music without labels.

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I tingled when popping back to the foyer to ensure Devizes Market Place still existed and I wasn’t at Womad, informing photographer Gail it felt like I was on was holiday, a holiday I couldn’t actually afford!

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And that, in a nutshell, is the indication of a quality and exotic night. A big group hug for the Devizes Arts Festival, what a super conclusion…. Can we book Ziggy Marley next year, otherwise how are you going to top that?!

 

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