Bands classified under the ambiguous Technicolor umbrella of “World Music” have never seemed particularly appealing to many people. Distant and frustrating memories of browsing through CDs within the “Foreign” rack back in the day may arise. But in the case of Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate’s November 19 th release, ‘Faya’, one cannot help but be captivated. This fresh duo, comprised of a digital one-man band and a virtuoso electric kora player, blows away any and all expectations associated with collaborative world music.
Multi-instrumentalist Joe Driscoll, originally from Syracuse, NY, has been globe trotting for about six years crisscrossing genres like hip-hop, folk, and reggae. Joe makes his distinct sound by beat boxing through a loop station and building layers upon layers of beauty with guitar, didgeridoo, harmonica, and whatever else he may fancy. “Settling” in the UK, Joey D. has been successful on the European and African festival circuits, playing sets at Electric Picnic (Ireland,) Glastonbury Festival (UK,) and Lake of Stars (Malawi, Africa).
Dubbed “The Jimi Hendrix of the Kora,” Sekou Kouyate gained multinational recognition as the whirlwind electric kora shredder of Ba Cissoko, a family band featuring Guinean singing sensation and Kouyate’s cousin, Ba Cissoko. In case it doesn’t ring a bell, the kora is a 21-string West African bridged harp, sort of a combination of a guitar and a harp. Kouyate, utilizing a series of electric effect pedals, creates a tone more exotic than the kora itself, especially with his signature rapid tempo soloing that blends seamlessly into every song.
Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate’s New York
Driscoll and Kouyate were paired together during an exercise of creativity at Nuits Metis, or Nights of Mixed Race, a French festival. They kept jamming despite the fact they share no common language, and ‘Faya’ is the result. Furthermore, this collaboration marks a change in both musicians’ tendencies. Whereas Driscoll usually plays solo, relying heavily on his loop station, Kouyate is part of the larger family ensemble Ba Cissoko. With Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate paired up, the duo are free to play in a variety of formats, whether it’s with a full band or just the two of them looping and playing live. From another perspective, Joe has the luxury of relinquishing a bit of musical responsibility, and Sekou has a better platform to showcase his brilliant playing and silky voice.
Every song is a highlight, as they are an exploration into the collaborative void between footswitch effected West African styling and contemporary American hip-hop. Some stand out tracks include “Passport,” “Lady,” and “New York.” “Passport” begins with an inviting bass line and minimal percussion, which grows into a smiling beat as Sekou and Joe trade verses. While Sekou plays what can be considered the “lead guitar” role with his fiery kora solos and Joe holds down a solid rhythm, no single element of their sound overpowers another.
“Lady” kicks off with a funky guitar riff that cuts out when Joe starts singing and Sekou brings in that infectious ambient kora that speeds up throughout the first verse and busts into a solo right after. But it doesn’t stop there. Sekou maintains that tempo throughout the chorus until he and Joe break into a brief call and response, and Sekou takes the last verse sprinkling in some monstrous runs with Joe’s funky rhythm weaving in and out.
Select tracks carry a heavier mood, like “Faya” and “Ghetto Many,” while “New York” has a little bit of that feel. But this track is one point where Joe takes the mic and runs with it. The guitar is tight, but the kora really shines. This may be Sekou’s most wild beat yet, really earning that “Jimi Hendrix of Kora” title. Lyrically, Joe plays with the theme of location, mentioning East Coast/West Coast of the US, but on a grander scale it’s a unity thing: I’m here, you’re there, and we’ll be all good. Finally “Zion” rounds off the album with an afro-reggae vibe spreading on Kouyate’s creamy voice heavy, it warms you up ‘til the last note.
‘Faya’ moves quickly. With each track averaging around 3:30, the only bummer about this nine-track album is that it’s almost over before it starts. But that’s what the repeat button is for, right?
Written by Peter DeStefano
OurVinyl | Contributor