Album Review: Dominic Valvona




Moulay Ahmed El Hassani ‘Atlas Electric’ (Hive Mind Records) 30th November 2018

Returning to the stimulating landscapes of North Africa after a brief excursion to the visceral South American horizons of Rodrigo Tavares Congo, Marc Teare’s burgeoning tactile Hive Mind label rests in the shadows of the Titanic straddling Atlas Mountains with its third release, Atlas Electric.

Paying tribune to the atavistic folk music forms of the Amazigh people (the Izlan and Ahidous) of Morocco meets modern synthesized pop fusions of the celebrated Moroccan polymath Moulay Ahmed El Hassani, Teare’s latest labour-of-love repackages a double album’s worth of material that was originally released on Hamid’s own label, Sawt el Hassani, during a decade timespan between 2004-2014.

Relatively unknown outside his homeland, the prolific doyen of modern Moroccan pop music has knocked out over fifty albums (mainly confined to cassette tape and CD) during a thirty-year career. Though crate-diggers, samplers and admirers of cult Arabian music will know the name, this lavishly illustrated and compiled collection acts as an introduction for the rest of us: A showcase if you like.

A sprawling musical odyssey that immediately evokes the romanticized escapism and exotic fantasy of the Atlas Mountain landscape it was produced in, Ahmed’s swirling paeans and lyrical social commentaries trot and canter on air like a magical camel trail through the rugged canyon and desert terrains. Like the Bedouins, this electrified pop hybrid moves lightly and freely across an expanse, weaving the traditional with a taste of modernity: The dramatic, sauntering and gliding mirages of tradition, in this setting, are countered by Casio keyboard pre-set rhythms, fizzled drum pads and warbled auto-tune. This melding of forms, a bridge between generations, gives it a twist. Though undoubtedly the technology is lagging behind a little, elongated thumbed strings and psychedelic, Tuareg-like, blues guitar are undulated by 1980s style balladry synth and programmed drums throughout.

Joining Ahmed on this adventure is the richly voiced trio of dueting Arabic and Amazigh language sirens, Karima, Hind and Khadija, who lull, trill and accentuate the heavenly and romantic gestures of these delightful sonnets: Often sounding like the Arabian equivalent of a Bollywood musical.

Electrifying the landscape with a strange beguiling fusion of R&B and pop (the sort of sound clash M.I.A. soaks up), yet staying true to tradition, Ahmed’s Moroccan musical fantasies soar and flutter above the travails and toils of the modern world; representing, even if plaintive at times, the beauty and dreamy lovelorn desires of those who live in the shadows of the Atlas Mountain. It’s a marvelous release and an education.




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Album Review: Dominic Valvona




Fofoulah  ‘Daega Rek’  (Glitterbeat Records)   9th November 2018

Bustling onto the transglobal London and Bristol scenes in 2014 with their earthy and urban bombastic fusion of Wolof African culture and dub electronica rich debut LP, the Fofoulah ensemble laid down the template for the a unique adventurous sound. Though taking its time to materialize, four years on, the follow-up album hasn’t just moved on but supersonically zoomed into the experimental void; even an esoteric, spiritual one at times. And in many ways this is down to the production.

Daega Rek, ‘the truth’ when translated from the Wolof language of coastal West Africa, sees Fofoulah’s saxophonist, keyboardist and producer Tom Challenger transmogrify the original Gambian talking drum of the group’s shamanistic rapping lead Kaw Secka and the accompanying percussion and propulsive drumming rhythms of his band members. (All of which were laid down at the Real World studios). Secka would then reappear in post-production to record his half spoken/half-rapped protestations and observations; the results all re-shaped into a ricocheting lunar-tropical bounding dub cosmology.

After a short introductory vignette of mysterious churned tetchy and dampened crunchy beats, the ode to a family’s first born (Secka’s notes emphasis not only the importance but heavy responsibility laid upon the first child; the ‘star’ or in Wolof, ‘Taaw’, must above all set a good example to his siblings), ‘Ndanane’, opens up the music box of effects; languorously swirling in an Afro-dub diaspora; evolving and stretching with interlayered limping beats towards a less zappy Ammar 808 vortex. Continuing with a similar message of responsibility, urging leaders of the country (especially Gambia’s very own president, Adama Barrow), from the very top down to the community, to remember their moral obligations, ‘Njite’ is a sound clash of Lee Scratch Perry, PiL and the On-U sound label. It also envisions an alternative moment in history; a sputnik space launch from Jamaica!

Skipping and skittish in motion; pushing the envelope as they pay tribute to lost brothers (‘Kaddy’ pays 2-Step rhythmic eulogy to the late photographer Khadija Saye who died in the Grenfell Tower disaster), the visceral taste of home (‘Chebou Jaine’ dedicated to Secka’s cousin, who cooked the best national Gambian dish) and search for the truth, Fofoulah lunge into the electrified dub ether.

On the ensemble’s most out-there of experimental dance albums, vague echoes and passing reverberations of R&B connect with roots, hip-hop with drum’n’bass, and the tribal with post-punk synthesized music as rhythms both rapid and chattering flutter with slower slurred ones and synthetic melodic atmospheres. Not to put it any better than the band, Daega Rek embodies the ‘spirit of morphing and connectivity’, and can be read as a sonic attack on the ‘fortress mentality’ and dangers of shutting down borders.

This album proves a congruous fit for Glitterbeat Records, and shares a bond with the musical explorations of their label mates Ammar 808 and Ifriqiyya Électrique, but remains tethered to its own sonic imaging. A great album that improves on the debut, progressing as it does into new fields of dub and beyond experimentation.





Fofoulah band photo courtesy of Alex Bonney.




LP Review: Words: Gianluigi Marsibilio 



Ty Segall & White Fence ‘Joy’ (Drag City)

Disorder and progress. Joy is an album that embraces Ty Segall‘s psychedelia and White Fence’s potency within the enhanced framework of short and hard tracks. Songs that seem to test a space rocket, launch tests on a poetic platform, finding a peak of fleeting delirium.

Intentions are fully understood in songs such as ‘Body Behavior’, or, where those contrasts emerge between the song form and the small textual pearls that are drawn.

The storytelling of this work is strongly linked to productions like DRINKS or the Body/Head. The structure and thoughts of these pieces is inspired by bands like Palberta, which in the abstract research and in the fast songs, enhance their skills.

“Everyone makes grammar mistake”, Joy wants to wallow in these mistakes: teasingly. In a song that repeats ‘Hey Joel, where are you going with that?’ Hendrix takes over to play on the supposed death of rock.

The most concrete and poetic text of the album is in ‘A Nod’, where Segall sings: “Tried to please my mother/Tried to please my father/Tried to please everyone but me”, “My friends say I need money/My friends say I need followers/But I want to believe in me”.

The half-formed songs are an example of the continuous artistic flow of Ty Segall and Fence, who manage to remain attached to their creative activity with absolute incisiveness. Joy is a modus operandi of work and attitude to admire.

The use of pitch shifting and numerous slogans such as ‘Body Behavior’ or ‘Please Do Not Leave This Town’ leave a sense of the cyclonic and joyful: as in an eternal ride on a roller coaster.

In Joy, things come together and resume the thread of Hair, their first album collaborative album together, released in 2012. After a feast of a garage rock that still embellishes your session of listening, the closure of ‘My Friend’ is quite useless for the purpose of the album, but still remains a ballad slightly dreamy, pleasant to listen to.

A daring record for an expert and ready duo, an album made with craft and lo-fi attitude, a test that we cannot disdain and that exalts a historical collaboration.

Gianluigi Marsibilio 


Album Review: Words: Phil Vanderyken




Fatoumata Diawara ‘Fenfo’  (Republic Of Music)  Available Now

This is such a beautiful record.

For every action there is a re-action. As bigotry, xenophobia and ultra-nationalism appear to be gaining ground all over the Western world, there is also a surprisingly fast growing popularity for what once would have been called “world music”, that is, music from anywhere but the UK or the US. In the age of globalization and a hyper-connected world, it’s only logical that human beings from very different parts of the world discover each other’s culture and all kinds of interesting and new musical hybrids are springing up. And there is a growing audience for it.

Immigration is of course, the key development that is making this happen. It brings us bands like The Turbans and the Brickwork Lizards in the UK who make a kind of music that is truly multicultural, bringing together British musicians with first and second-generation immigrants, communicating through the universal language that is music. In the US, Kronos Quartet collaborated with Trio da Kali from Mali on their stellar album Ladilikan, a multicultural mini-masterpiece.

Multiculturalism has also been making inroads into pop music. In France, pop star Indira is of Algerian, Cambodian, Egyptian and Indian descent. Her music pulls influences from hip hop, reggae, gypsy swing, raga and more to create a unique style of irresistible pop music that has been very successful.

Fatoumata Diawara’s case is somewhat different. The actress, singer and musician was born in Ivory Coast of Malian parents before immigrating to Paris as a teenager in order to escape the pressures of her traditionalist family. Fatoumata sings in her native language, and her music is deeply rooted in her culture. Her first album Fatou could be described as acoustic African pop and received praise from the likes of Pitchfork. In contrast Fenfo, her second album, incorporates elements of pop, funk, and rock into a very popular hybrid that has wooed audiences in Europe and the US while still very much remaining quintessentially African.

I first became aware of Fatoumata through the beautiful music video for her song ‘Nterini’, the opening track, a very moving and current song about a refugee who has been separated from his beloved, trying to make his way to a better future for himself and his family.

Fatoumata does not shy away from controversial topics. She sings about slavery, female genital mutilation, a practice that is still very common in Africa today, and the ban on marriages between different ethnic groups. But she does so without rancour or negativity, and her music is deeply joyous and full of life, practically jumping out of the speakers.

‘Kokoro’ is the kind of desert blues popularized by the Touareg guitarist Bombino, featuring soaring psychedelic lead guitar like Hendrix camped out in the Sahara.

‘Mama’ is a tender acoustic ballad with acoustic guitar and majestic cello, over which Fatoumata’s world-weary vocals hover and soar.

‘Bonya’ is the most poppy track of the album, with a sing along chorus and a solid funk vibe that would not sound out of place on a Suffers record. Sweetly meandering guitar lines keep bringing the listener’s mind back to the steppes and townships of Africa.

As if to drive home the virtuosic eclecticism of this release, ‘Dibi Bo’ sounds like a mix of Afropop and Motown, whereas ‘Don Do’ is a subdued ending to the album, another acoustic offering that combines guitar and cello, showcasing Fatoumata’s stunning vocal delivery one last time.

Fenfo is an ambitious, far-reaching record that combines many strands of music while remaining firmly rooted in African culture. There is nothing ‘naïve’ about the album’s sunny optimism and joyous energy. Rather, it is a stubborn celebration of life, in spite of all the challenges, hardships and ugliness one faces. Fenfo is a deeply spiritual declaration of love for the world and everyone in it. This album makes me happy and gives me hope for the future.





Words: Phil Vanderyken

ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona



Vieux Farka Touré  ‘Samba’
Six Degrees Records,  12th May 2017

Lucky enough to have witnessed firsthand the erudite guitar majestic skills of one of Mali’s leading artists last year, as part of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival line-up, I still find myself decidedly jealous of the intimate small audience that were invited to Vieux Farka Touré’s Woodstock Session later that same year in October. A studio recording with a difference, played out and developed live in front of just fifty lucky people in Saugerties, N.Y., Touré’s latest blurs the boundaries between performance and the processes of making an album.

Ever the consummate maestro and backed by an equally accomplished band of musicians, there was some initial apprehension on Touré’s on allowing an audience in to the studio. Though we have the finished product, free of any mistakes, restarts and disagreements, it seems this audience far from unnerving the band, egged it on, with the results sounding effortless and natural. There were overdubs of course and one of the songs was recorded back home in Mali – the calabash driven Ni Negarba. But far from cutting corners or relying on the back catalogue, Touré has fashioned an entirely new songbook of vocal and instrumental material for Samba. Some of which amorphously touches upon unfamiliar influences, including reggae on the unapologetically roots-y swaying Ouaga.

 

Still a commanding presence, though he makes it look easy and so serene, emanating almost uninterrupted waves of phaser-effect guitar permutations and nuanced fretboard noodling, Touré continues to languidly merge his own lyrical form of worship and goodwill with the blues, rock and R&B. Often alluded to as some kind of Saharan Hendrix, his heritage and reputation is actually linked to the more urbane capital of Bamako in the southwest of Mali, which has its very own amalgamation of styles and unique history. Still, those desert blues styles, synonymous with the Tuareg especially, do crossover and can be detected in Touré’s music.

 

Touré is as the Songhai title of his new album Samba translates, the second son of the late Ali Farka Touré, a doyen of the Mali music scene himself who left an indelible mark. If we expand on the title’s meaning, “Samba” is a byword for “one who never breaks”, “who never runs from threats, who is not afraid”. It is even said that those adorned with the name are “blessed with good luck.” Inspired by his ancestry, imbued with three generations, Touré’s album is suffused with special tributes to his family. In the mode of a praise song, the spindly weaved heartfelt Mariam pays homage to the last born of the family, his youngest sister, but is also by extension a paean to both the women of the Peule and “all sisters of the world”. Samba Si Kari, based on a song Touré’s grandfather used to sing to him as a child, pays a reflective impassioned tribute to his parents. Expanding the goodwill further, to those outside the ancestral line, he’s also penned, what sounds like, a hoof-cantering percussive camel ride with celestial desert sky illuminations keyboard – courtesy of old pal Idan Raichel –, sweet dedication to his manager and friend Eric Herman’s daughter Maya. The press release offers a further subtext to this particular song, one of multifaith cohesion; Touré a Muslim and Herman a Jew, spreading a message of tolerance.

 

Outside the family sphere, Touré confronts both Mali’s recent Jihadist takeover – only stopped and defeated by the intervention of the country’s former colonial masters, France – on the radiantly rippling, chorus of voices, funky blues number Homafu Wawa, and environmental issues on the dexterously nimble-fingered bluesy rock, Nature.

 

The almost never-ending efflux, the constant lapping waves of textures that Touré plays, which offer a cyclonic bed on which to add the deftest licks, have never sounded so sagacious and free flowing. This ain’t no Saharan Hendrix at work, this is something else entirely, and better for it. This is the devotional, earthy soul of Mali, channeled through a six-string electric guitar.

 

Originally scheduled for 2015, the Woodstock Session would have still been a revelatory showcase and classic, but with that extra year, with the travails of being in constant demand on the road and the rapid turn of events Samba in 2017 makes even more sense, resonating with a message of respect, peace and tolerance.





REVIEW
Words: Ayfer Simms


Retoryka - Monolith Cocktail

Retoryka   ‘Enhanced  Techniques  I.’  &  ‘Enhanced  Techniques  II.  EPs’
Released  by  Everyday  Life  Recordings,  20th  January  2017

Retoryka hooks its amplifiers somewhere in the horizon, to let their sound blow with the four winds, standing perfectly tranquil amid the chaos and commotion they create with their instruments: there’s a party under a shade.

Dazed, rapturous and noisy, underground and yet classy, peaceful even, the melodic vintage compositions of the band are like masses of energy breaking down in brief fluttering lethal notes, all mingling together in a distorted tireless ensemble.

The tunes under that shade give the spotlights to well-approved guitar swirls, whilst turmoil prevails in the tiny details of all the tracks. Retoryka seems to go loose, walking gleefully along a greasy and messy road full of complexity because different styles collide and merge, the same way they would on a newly forming galaxy. At first we feel off balanced and then the cohesion miraculously appears.

Our feet are dangling from a truck; we are dizzy while the music plays. The instruments’ cords slowly become our umbilical sweaty bond that provides us with nourishment and an ear-splitting nursery rhythm to our nights.

These are destructive younglings, in search, of the perfect shriek, with sprouting shy impressions in the first EP and calmer ripened attitude in the second. In contrast the vocals are soft and endearing, welcoming, like the soft touch of a wobbly titan.

The notes and the guitar may show some rebellious arching but the listen is all around light, with agreeable melodies and “safe” spurts of the instruments.





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