CD REVIEW: Fofoulah – Fofoulah

Fofoulah – Fofoulah
(Glitterbeat GBCD 017. CD Review by Dan Bergsagel)

Fofoulah are the latest step on drummer Dave Smith’s journey through West African percussion which started in the Gambia in 2002. Developing on elements of his work in Outhouse Ruhabi, Fofoulah and their debut album have shifted their focus from strong free-improvisation to a fusion of traditional Wolof drumming, dub, and afrobeat synth.

The punchy start of No Troubles, offbeat and chunky, transforms in to a high energy melancholic story, driven by tireless drumming and busy guitar lines, while Kaw Secka launches Hook Up with a Sabar introduction leading in drawn-out horn lines and Johnny Brierley’s bouncing bass groove.

Make Good sees delicate chordal guitar explorations dragged along by mind-boggling drum rhythms, and Tom Challenger leaves his saxophone to one side to add keys, reminiscent of Niger’s Mammane Sanni Abdoulaye. The tail end of the album sees Smith and Secka bring their enthralling percussion further to the fore with short bursts and sparse arrangement on Fighting Chance, but not before accessible (and unusually, English) moments on the upbeat Don’t Let Your Mind Unravel, Safe Travels, the classic dub-reverb vocals of The Clean Up and the early 80s Dexy’s Midnight Runners start to Reality Rek.

At the beginning of this year I saw Fofoulah headline Cafe Oto, sharing the stage with Brass Mask and Hello Skinny. It was an evening which mixed horn-rich New Orleans street music, calm psychedelic rhythm-heavy electronica, Senegalese vocal prowess and traditional Gambian Wolof drumming – a steady stream of guest drummers appearing from the crowd to pick up a Sabar drum, add to the percussive layering, and then disappear back into the crowd.

At the time, the eclectic line-up seemed a bold programmatical statement, yet Fofoulah’s debut CD (also available as LP and download, release date is Sep 19th 2014) brings together all these components: joyous vocals, high energy polyrhythms and looping hypotic guitar, bass and keys. An exciting moment in Dave Smith’s West African percussive love affair.


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