Album Review/Dominic Valvona

Rafiki Jazz ‘NDUGGU’
(Konimusic) 26th March 2021

With possibly one of the most diverse lineups going, the polygenesis Rafiki Jazz ensemble can boast of eight different languages and between them play at least thirty different instruments, and that’s without counting their guest contributors.

The foundation core of eight band members represents near enough every corner of the globe; from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, India and Africa. It’s a cross-pollination of cultures that musically weaves together each member’s heritage seamlessly. And so you’re just as likely to hear the West African spindly harp-like kora alongside a tapping, bobbing set of tablas, or a vague air of Moorish Spain, South America and romantic Urdu vocals all sharing space in the same song. 

Following on from 2019’s entrancing and captivating ‘mystic utopia’ translated Saraba Sufiyana album, and with funding from the Arts Council in England, Rafiki Jazz now reveal their fifth omnivorous geographical songbook, recorded remotely in lockdown, NDUGGU. Pronounced “dug-goo” that title means “dust”; a theme that is mentioned throughout the album but one that is in particular a reference to the increasing desertification of the Sahel region in Northern Africa, where climate change is having an erosive and unstable effect.

Dust, as the PR spill reminds us, is also our ‘ultimate destiny’. The lingering dust of previous generations imbues this eight track album of serious but diaphanous, harmoniously articulated dreams and filmic quality traverses. Though deeply affecting, these borderless mergers somehow wash over the listener with a certain translucence and lightness of touch; like a silken veil over the romantic floated Turkish language ‘Gesi Baglari’ (an ode to the band’s manager), and sadder, clandestine Tango across the Arabian Seas to Pakistan ‘Tum Na Aaye’.

Elsewhere there’s a lyrical, sweet synchronicity of Tamil, India and West Africa on the opening enchanted, almost-duet(ed) fluty ‘Naalaikku Nalla Naal’, and a languid Ghanaian Highlife hop between the Hispaniola, South Seas and Afro-Caribbean that settles down into a snuggled sunny groove, ‘Ngozi Ucheoma’.

Intoxicated opium scented Arabia to the Upper Nile via a magical Kashmir lullaby, scenes, and concerns are set to heartfelt yearning vocals and gently stirred rhythms. Rafiki Jazz’s main strength then, is in transferring listeners to these exotic musical environments – many of which are suffering from the harshest consequences of climate change, and in many cases too, violent conflict.

Created in the shadow of Covid with all the restrictions it brings, and because of that recorded remotely, NDUGGU is still every bit as beautifully conceived, harmonious, and of course as embracing of diversity, as previous international affairs from the band.  With a focus on drawing attention to communities on the frontline of global change and extreme upheaval, Rafiki Jazz keep a number of forgotten people, their compatriots in many cases, in the spotlight. They do this with a most stunning, panoramic and worldly rich and lyrical songbook: a celebration in a sense against the forces that have tried to disconnect, disunite these international voices and musicians.   

See also…

Rafiki Jazz  ‘Saraba Sufiyana’

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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