Fofoulah ‘Fofoulah’ (Glitterbeat Records) Released 22nd September 2014
A blurring of cultural and musical boundaries, the cross-pollinated London/Bristol quintet Fofoulah, send ricocheting percussive shots echoing across a backing of West African and European landscapes on their eponymous debut LP. Part of the celebrated Glitterbeat Records roster, they share many traits with fellow global mind travellers, Dirt Music. But whereas Dirtmusic were all transcendental and moody abstracted guitars and esoteric blues, Fofoulah center their sound around the rhythmic phrased language of the Sabar and Tama drums – the sabar used to communicate messages between villages, through the centuries, by the Wolof people of Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania, and the Tama, a ‘talking drum’ that can be regulated to mimic the tone of a human voice.
Alongside band member and the group’s producer, David Smith’s (who also performs with the equally cosmopolitan imbued Robert Plant’s band, the Sensational Space Shifters) sensitively attuned drum kit, the percussion is key, underpinning and leading each loose song form along its meandering path. Yet despite the dub like feel and swaying movement, there is an urgency – a poignant one at that -, delivered through the political and personal charged lyrics, sang for the most part by the group’s main vocalist, Senegalese born singer and Bristol resident Batch Gueye. As an example of this underscored call for harmony, the hypnotically polyrhythmic reverberated sound clash album opener, ‘No Troubles’, calls for “…peace in the community.”
An extended collective of featured artists join the quintet on their echoed sonorous travails, with the Gambian master griot and single-stringed riti player Juldeh Camara lending some meditative tones to the searching, searing ‘Hook Up’, and the Algerian/Parisian singer Iness Mezel cooing reverently and majestically over a tribal clattering Afro-soulful rich desert song, ‘Blest’. There’s also a Dream Warriors meets Tricky style ambling turn from the amiable, adroit spoken word rapper Ghostpoet on the breezier laidback, rim shot rattling, ‘Don’t Let Your Mind Unravel’ – an album highlight.
Pretty much a seal of quality, the Glitterbeat label can once again be relied upon to offer, yet, another distinctive polygenesis slice of West Africa and beyond; reminding us that these lands gave birth in the first place to blues and rock’n’roll.
Fofoulah blur the boundaries even further, absorbing the surroundings and musical exchanges of London with touches of reggae, Afro rock and saxophone- caressed soul, to plow their own distinct furrow.