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African Jazz

Senegal's Etoile de Dakar featuring Youssou N'Dour and south London's Yaaba Funk

By Published: June 1, 2010
Even in 2010—between 60 and 80 years after highlife's birth, depending on where you start counting—much Ghanaian popular music is, or is related to, the typically good humored style: built on variants of the rhythmic motif known in Europe and America as the "postman's knock" or "Bo Diddley beat," and featuring sophisticated drum and percussion sections, call and response or chorale vocals, and extrovert horn arrangements originally inspired by Latin and Caribbean music. To this Yaaba Funk adds modern funk grooves, a little rock and jazz, and an occasional splash of Afrobeat. Soothsayers' core duo, tenor saxophonist Idris Rahman and trumpeter Robin Hopcraft, aka Soothsayers Horns, are prominent guest musicians.



Yaaba Funk is a hot live band, its generally up tempo music crafted to induce dancing, and transposed to disc, this could make for a somewhat samey experience. But the band rings as many changes as it has to hand: there are sterling, booting tenor solos on three tracks, and fine percussion breaks on others. The most ambitious, non-dance floor centric track, the 11:18 minute "Mutani N'Africa," is impressive. Arranged in six sections, it begins with a slow, mystical vibe created by traditional percussion and guitarist Christian Arcucci in "desert blues" mode. A second, faster and more urgent section, led by chanted vocals, follows. This in turn is followed by a percussion and dub vocals break. A return to the second section, then the first, then the second again, completes the piece.



Yaaba Funk's musicians come from across the globe—from Ghana, America, Martinique, Jamaica, Italy, Germany and the UK—but such diversity, in Britain anyway, is no longer remarkable. What is unusual is the engagement with which the rainbow hued players approach a root aesthetic, highlife, which most of them were not born into. They sound at ease and like they're enjoying themselves, and the feeling is infectious.




Tracks and Personnel

Once Upon a Time in Senegal

Tracks: CD1: Thiely; Dom Sou Nare Bakh; Esta China; Mane Khouma Khol Thi Yao; Jalo; Absa Gueye; Thiapa Thioly; Dagotte; Dounya; Diandioli; Kine Kine; M'Badane. CD2: Tolou Badou N'Diaye; Nit Kou N'Gnoul; Yalaye Dogal; My Wa Wa; Lay Suma Lay; Diankha Demal; Khaley Etoile; Sama Guenth-Gui; M'Baye Gueye; Titeur; Maleo.

Personnel: Youssou N'Dour: vocals; El Hadji Faye: vocals; Eric M'Backe N'Doye: vocals; Mar Seck: vocals; Alla Seck: vocals, maracas; Badou N'Diaye: lead guitar (CD1, CD2 #1-6); Jimi Mbaye: lead guitar (CD2 #7-11); Alpha Seyni Kante: rhythm guitar; Kabou Gueye: bass; Rane Diallo: alto saxophone; Diogomaye: saxophone; Mark Sambou: trumpet; Matar Gueye: congas; Abdou Fall: timbales; Assane Thiam: tama.

Afrobeast

Tracks: Me Nye Me Dofo; Bukom Mashie; Nyash! E Go Bite You!!; Kalabule Man; Hwe Hwe Mu Na Yi Wompena; Mutani N'Africa; Oman Foa (Mmo Mma Yen Gye Yen Ani); Kanowa.

Personnel: Richmond Kessie: lead vocals, percussion; Helen McDonald: vocals; Tobia Sturmer: guitar, vocals; Paul Brett: bass, synthesiser, keyboards, vocals; Christian Arcucci: guitar; Lou Ciccotelli: drums; Clive Wales: congas, percussion; Trevor Antonio Kentish: percussion; Adrian Northover: alto saxophone; Sue Lynch: tenor saxophone; Robin Hopcraft: trumpet; Idris Rahman: tenor saxophone; Yul Emiralis: keyboards; Paul Zimmerman: shekere.



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