Not such a leap of faith, the highly congruous dubbed-up rework of the critically acclaimed offerings from West African and Saharan music imprint Glitterbeat, transfers the label’s original roster of atavistic desert blues, griot and inner city poly-rhythmic rock into an experimental new dimension. However transformed, the original roots of each song still remain: it’s the destination that has changed.
Glitterbeat’s inaugural release back in 2013 showcased the Malian Afro-rock chops of, relative newcomer, Ben Zabo. His Démocratie EP would feature a number of dub overhauls from Berlin producer Mark Ernestus. Laying down the genius Techno vibes of the much-venerated in electronic music circles, Basic Channel project and avant-roots-dub Rhythm And Sound with his partner Moritz von Oswald, Ernestus garnered the jaunty rock of Zabo with a resonating field of floating dub, infinite echoing melodica and Jah Rastafari horns on his ‘Danna’ and ‘Wari Vo’ tracks. Both included on this compilation and laying down the inspiration for a host of similar remixes, the ancestral paths of music conjoin once again, as reggae and dub return to Africa via the electronic developments and cross-pollinated music scenes of Europe.
Zabo’s music, lending itself well to these adroit treatments, is granted the lion’s share with a quartet of tracks; including the crisp percussive led, hypnotic, tribal trance Healing Remix take, by Dusseldorf musician Harmonius Thelonuis of Zabo staple, Danna, and the echo-y ricochet shot snare and reverb deep chorus atavistic voiced Tamana Dub of ‘Na Yafa’ by Glitterbeat’s very own co-owner, stalwart producer and artist, Chris Eckman (sporting the Studio Zuma moniker he has used to produce work in the past and present by Zabo, Tamikrest and Lobi Traoré).
Joining Zabo on this, sometimes kosmiche style, adventure, the transcendental Tuareg blues merchants Tamikrest see their ‘Itous’ signature desert-caravan rock style taken deeper into the hallucinatory shimmering sun by famed reggae producer Dennis Bovell. Renowned for his immersive early days with the soundsystem culture of South London, and for producing The Slits, The Pop Group and Orange Juice, Bovell must have relished the challenge of imbuing the already swaying roots-y grooves of his Nomad subjects with some vaporous prowling.
Talking of The Pop Group, the Bristol anti-pop group’s founding vocalist/lyricist, Mark Stewart is let loose on Dirtmusic’s wasteland blues odyssey ‘Smokin’ Bowl’. Accorded the appropriate Redemption Remix title, Stewart turns the original’s gentler meditative tones into something more menacing: Nick Cave stalking the arable wastelands of a Malian dustbowl. Mischievously jarring the listener with ridiculous laser effects, speeded up tape samples and moody passages of washed away backing tracks – the ghosts of guitar and percussion heard through the vocalist’s headphones -, a sleigh bell shaking beat seeps in out of nowhere in an attempt to inject some semblance of rhythm. The most avant-garde remix of all, Stewart’s free reign pulls the subject apart, yet somehow still keeps the meandering feel from falling apart into a mess.
Making our ‘choice album list’ of 2013, the North Malian legend Samba Touré’s diaphanously soulful Albala moved on from the more amiable, genial majesty of his earlier albums, to protest in the most eloquently played manner at the insurgent take-over of his country. From that album, the nimble-fingered delta blues of ‘Ayé Go Mila’ is transformed into a languorous drift over the sands; into an esoteric direction that takes reggae on a camel ride through the spoilt by conflict and fear, Mali landscape. Bovell on duty again, makes it sound somehow alien: from another plain.
A much more dramatic take, the ‘multidimensional’ music project Schneider TM – a moniker used by Berlin-based musician Dirk Dresselhaus – puts Touré’s vocals through a robotic/Jew’s harp like vocoder, and takes the backing into orbit on a strange kosmiche dub trip on his Cockpit Dub version of ‘Be Ki Don’.
Featured on the Monolith Cocktail back in 2010, the hyper, Casio electro, kitsch Shangaan phenomenon of South Africa, took the previously indigenous forms of kwaito and Tsonga disco and mixed them with folk traditions, house and dance music to produce what sounded like a speeded up dose of exotic hardcore rave. Growing far beyond its borders, the progenitor of that genre, Nozinja, has made it big and is now arguably the country’s most important electronic pioneer. He has since been lavished praise by such electronic luminaries as The Knife, Caribou and Actress, and has now been signed to Warp (an album due for releases in the Autumn). Here he turns the sonorous, far reaching majestic vocals of Malian vocalist, Aminata Wassidjé Traoré, from Timbuktu ancestral longing into a sweet, dusty trail, exotic disco. Rising from behind the, sometimes naïve sounding, cheery programmed rhythm section, dry ice induced synth chords create a dreamy experience.
This Mali showcase wouldn’t be complete without the late mystical ‘Bambara bluesman’, Lobi Traoré, whose repetitive flange delays create a magical pulse, pitched somewhere in between Hendrix, Michael Rother and Angus Young. Another firm favourite of ours, his posthumous Bamako Nights: Live At Bar Bozo 1995 album was in every sense, electrifying and legendary. Adding a lo fi cyclonic break beat to the Traoré’s ‘Back Talk’, British-Ghanaian visual and musical artist (exhibiting work in the Tate Modern, Documenta in Kassel, Bokoor African Popular Music Archives Foundation in Accra), Larry Achiampong infuses the Mali blues with his own mix of abstract Hip Hop and high life to create a looping, hypnotic atmospheric collage of sound.
The Caribbean comes to Mali; Glitterbeat: Dubs & Versions I is a refreshing, and successful, take on the often-celebrated eclectic desert music of the region – very much under threat in recent times. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that reggae and its scion dub can so easily and convincingly entwine itself with West Africa’s ancestral roots.