Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Recently while looking out music for a DJ night of African music I played dozens of tracks at home back-to-back searching for the best sounds . . . and one thing became very clear.
Most of this stuff would drive people crazy and I'd get booted out the bar.
The relentless chant-sing style of so much of what I played at home became off-putting even to me, and I like this stuff . . . so I defaulted to the likes of King Sunny Ade, Sonny Okosun, Manu Dibango, Fela and the like. Reliable old familiars.
The debut album Tres Tres Fort by Staff Benda Bilili was a gem (their story even better) and I loved them at Womad 2012 where the excitement was palpable and one of the band even got out of his wheelchair and danced (which may happen at every gig, I wouldn't know).
But this new album opens with one of those relentless, furious chant-sing pieces and that becomes their default position in a number of places. A number too many for me and while you cannot deny their energy and enthusiasm on disc it can be sometimes less infection than in concert, and a little bit hard work.
That said, their man Roger on that one-string handmade guitar thing really pulls out all the stops (sort of searing or heartbreaking blues as played on an electrified diddley-bo) and the addition of a new guitarist Amalphi who can pull down the magical sped-up juju is a real asset (and together as on Libala Ya Mungwa they are show stoppers).
So it is the more considered songs here -- the minimalist Sopeka which lodges in a corner of the brain, the chipping guitar and percussion on Tangu i Fueni, the mysterious Djambula which sounds more North African -- which come off the best amidst the breathless pace set elsewhere.
Yes, it is hard to escape the sheer energy of Bilanga which -- behind the chant-sing vocals -- sounds like an album played on 45rpm, and I do appreciate that they alternate between fast and slow songs.
But this isn't the Staff Benda Bilili album I'll be playing the most.
However if they ever play in my region again I will be there, with a water bottle in hand and some speed in my pocket just to be sure I can keep up with this flat-tack rush which can be tiring in its relentlessness.