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CD Shorts: Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Faya

(Cumbancha)

A lot of times, genres get mashed up willy-nilly, and the mashers of those genres count on novelty to propel them. On Faya, the genre-mashing feels natural. In this case, two musicians with quite different styles were asked to collaborate as part of a festival in Marseilles, France. Neither was particularly good at the other’s language, so they concentrated on communicating through sound. Sekou Kouyate, from Guinea, is a monstrously good player of the West African harp-like instrument called the kora. Joe Driscoll is known for a folky incarnation of hip-hop, produced in one-man-band fashion via loops. Interestingly, when the two play together, the result often ends up sounding like a cousin of Caribbean music. Kouyate plays blistering, repetitive phrases on the kora, though you’d be forgiven for not immediately recognizing that the sounds he makes are actually from a kora. That’s because he applies some decidedly non-traditional treatments to his sound, things like distortion and wah pedal. The result is equal parts Hendrix, funk, and traditional African. Driscoll offers rapidfire rapping and singing atop the kora and looping, laid-back samples. Though the entire album is entertaining, the songwriting proves its Achilles heel—some tunes don’t take flight, resting on not particularly intriguing, repeated phrases. In its best moments, Faya hits compelling grooves, and Driscoll’s vocals combine beautifully with Kouyate’s virtuosic sonic assault. This continuing collaboration ends up sounding like a crazy melange of dub reggae, rap, and traditional (by way of the Twilight Zone) West African music. It’s well worth a listen for its many unexpected turns.

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