SEKOU KOUYATE MAKES the most unearthly sound with his electrified kora, and his flamboyant fantasias are something any fan of guitar-like instruments should hear at least once before they die. He really knows how to make that thing squeal, but it’s not a typical guitar squeal, it’s both more visceral and primal than that. Which is my way of saying it’s cool as.
And then there’s Joe Driscoll. He’s a rapper/producer who would appear to have no viable reason for commingling with Kouyate. As it happens, the two were slammed together on the festival circuit, where happily, they went down like the proverbial storm, and subsequently stuck it out together long enough to put together this 10-song album.
I can see the reasoning. WOMAD-type audiences dig fusion like it never went out of style, but more than that, a gifted player like Kouyate could spend a lifetime looking for the right context without ever quite getting there, and at least Faya gives it a shot. It’s boring and clichéd and lazy that they call him the ‘Hendrix of the kora’, but look at Hendrix: there’s a gifted player (a genius player) who for most of his short life lacked focus, and the right collaborators, and really only found the right context for a split second in his too-short life.
But back to the album: it works, to a point, but never convinces you that it’s more than a one-shot deal, a flawed project, even while it impresses, and there are times those flaws are pretty damn serious. For instance, there’s a song called ‘Lady’, and it’s okay, mostly. It boasts a fine groove and an insistent bass presence, but then it goes and trashes it all with one of the grottiest lyrics I’ve heard in ages: “Hey lady, I’ve got you on my mind”, over and over and over. And then there’s a silly rap about meeting this lovely lady at one of their shows. Groan.
Those who like a bit of rap, a bit of reggae, a dab of dubby bass and some French lyrics might really find this stew appealing, and it does appeal, at least some of the time. There’s something not quite right in its totality, however. On the track ‘New York’, for instance, the soloing sounds like Eddie Van Halen or something equally aesthetically inappropriate. The album is at its best when the rhythms feel like they’re spurring Kouyate on to do great things on his kora, but too often it just sounds like two disparate acts wedged into a narrow playing field. GARY STEEL
Sound = 3.5
Music = 3