This music is expressive, incentive, and a beautiful blend of heart and mind.
Real World Records CDRW244
Malika Tirolien (vocals); Weedie Braimah (djembe, congas); Keita Ogawa ( congas, dohola, cymbal, chains, claps, bendir, bells, darbuka, surdo, caixa, riq, krakeb, kanjira, timbau, bomb legüero); Jamey Haddad Kuwaiti (tar, ocean drum, finger cymbal, chains, bells, claps, kanjira, cowbell, shekere, palm brushes, vocal percussion, bendir, darbuka, metal pots, anklung); André Ferrari (bombo legüero, frame drum, bells, grouse pipe, bass drum); Michael League (guembri, electric oud, electric bass, vocals, claps, ngoni, krakeb); Chris McQueen (electric and acoustic guitars); Bob Lanzetti (electric and acoustic guitars, nylon string guitar); Roosevelt Collier (lap steel guitar)
History is the third album by Snarky Puppy’s offshoot band, Bokanté. Bokanté means exchange in Guadeloupean Creole, singer Malika Tirolien’s native language. Snarky Puppy guitarist Michael League formed the band in 2016 after hearing singer Malika Tirolien.
Across their previous albums, they have blended blues, African and Arab music, and the Gwo ka tradition of Guadeloupe.
The album celebrates black history and global unity while commenting on the futility of war. All but two of the songs feature lyrics sung in Guadeloupean Creole. Regardless of their language, their emotion comes through clearly and resolutely, carried by the grounded earthiness of their music.
Tirolian’s vocals dominate the album as the textured guitars and an array of African and Arab percussive instruments and African string instruments, including the ngoni and guembri, build the stage where her vocals dance.
History is also a guitar album and not a guitar album. Guitar tones don’t drift far from the tones employed in much of Snarky Puppy’s music, and Snarky Puppy’s normal approach is so open and wide-ranging that the lineage is there but does not dominate the album.
They often blend their harmonic route into ambient support of the song. After vocals, guitars dominate the album.
Band leader Micheal League says, “Though the ensemble is multilingual, multicultural, and multi-generational, we all feel connected as musicians and people. And in combining our different accents I feel that there is a strangely common and poignant sound, one that can reach and relate to listeners around the world.”
The album opener Bliss sounds like the drive of a rock song mixed with the freedom of jazz and the echos of African rhythms. Bliss’ English lyrics are haunting and inviting.
More of the same approach pulses and flows through Adjoni. Chris McQueen and Bob Lanzetti’s guitars add extra punctuation and harmonic growl at the end of the song, which defines much of the formula for the album.
Pa Domi starts ethereally with Tirolien’s voice vocalizing with minimal instrumentation; then, the song takes off with an incessant groove riff, and the vocals carry the melody. The song’s rhythm underpinning has so much color to itself that its repetition defies its depth.
It also builds and adds texture and complexity, teasing the listener to discover what timbre it will add next. Jangly, arpeggiated chords connect the rhythm to the vocal melody as the song dances toward its close. Overlayed vocals add to the song’s mystery. How can a song be this mysterious and groove and the same time?
In Illiminé, arpeggiated chords and spoken lyrics evolve into a hurried rhythm with singing to match—Tirolien’s vocal acrobatics dance over the surging music. The angular guitar solo answers the rest of the frenetic album.
Fle a Memwa and Mikwob are acoustic ballads. Both are graceful and lovely, and Mikwob features an almost choral vocal arrangement.
Ta Voix is earthy, celestial singing on top of another rhythmic driving figure and wailing yet precise guitar. Drums and percussion become more insistent and leap into a life of their own.
Tandé features chanting with electronic beeps behind it – and unexpected musical language supported by atmospheric lap steel guitar. This is the most electronic song on the album and would flirt with being inorganic if not for each musician’s commitment to the rhythmic spirit of the music.
The album’s title track, History, summarizes the whole album with its moving, driving rhythm powered by its guembri riff and emotive singing.
By most strict definitions, History might not be jazz. That doesn’t matter. This music is expressive, incentive, and a beautiful blend of heart and mind.
All the things that jazz is, whether played on a saxophone or an oud. History is a vibrant album that draws the listener into a new instrumental and lyrical world even as its music strives to unite the world.