Words by Nigel Williamson
A New Yorker and a Guinean: two dudes with shared ’tude
When West African and Anglo-American musicians collaborate, the results are often heavily based on improvisation. The approach that goes ‘I’ll pick out a traditional melody on the kora and you can follow on the guitar’ – or vice versa – has produced some wonderfully intuitive jams over the years. But it was evident from their 2012 debut Faya that Driscoll and Kouyaté favour a different, more structured approach. The second album from the rapper, beatboxer and songwriter from Syracuse, New York and the Guinean kora virtuoso who used to play with Ba Cissoko is built around smartly sculpted arrangements on fully-developed new songs, from Driscoll’s tough-edged rap ‘Just Live’ to the gorgeous, lilting Afro-pop of ‘Tokira’, via the thumping trip-hop beats of the title-track.
The key lies not in the glorious collision of two contrasting cultures but how seamlessly they are intertwined in a common musical language, as Kouyaté and Driscoll overlap lyrics in English and Susu against taut but supple rhythms, the mellifluous African baritone of one intriguingly complemented by the streetwise New York City tones of the other. Kouyaté’s kora playing is excitingly unique, as well; the dynamics of his rock’n’roll attack evoke comparisons with the way fellow African rocker Bassekou Kouyaté cranks up the ngoni.