Since I started reviewing music that falls into the catch all category of World Music, I've heard some of the most amazing combinations of sound. Classical Indian musicians playing North American Jazz on their traditional instruments and a Gypsy brass band playing Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" are only a couple of examples. But I don't think any of them could have prepared me for the music that I heard on the new release from the World Village Music label, Soul Science
Soul Science is the product of a collaboration between British guitarist Justin Adams and traditional Gambian "griot" (musical history keeper/story teller) Juldeh Camara. Justin is best known for being Robert Plant's sideman and his collaborations with the Tuareg band Tinariwen from the South Sahara. Camara is probably unknown outside of his native Gambia, yet has been steeped in his culture's music since he was a child when he served as his blind father's guide as he traveled around in his role as griot. According to legend Juldeh's father, Serif, went out to collect firewood one day and vanished. Six months later he was found by his family playing a golden ritti (a traditional one string fiddle) sitting in a tree. While the family got their son back, he lost his eyesight forever in exchange for the tutelage of the forest spirits in the ways of music.
With that heritage it's no wonder that Camara junior's playing is so extraordinary. While I've heard many other musicians who hail from the griot tradition in Africa, I've never heard one able to do what he does on this recording. There's no way a one stringed instrument should be able to create the diversity of sound that he seems to be able to draw out of his ritti, but somehow or other he makes it the equal of Justin's electric guitar in terms of originality of tone. Bo Diddley meets West African griot music might sound far fetched, but that's only one of the amazing roads these two men travel down.
What gives this recording even extra spice is the fact that they've elected to utilize the services of a multi-instrumentalist percussionist instead of the standard contemporary drummer. Salah Dawson Miller is a perfect fit for these two men, as he not only is a regular on the British Blues scene, but is deeply involved in Algerian music as well. So he was already predisposed to playing with one foot in Africa and one in Britain.
It's not just Blues and Africa that they are drawing upon for their inspiration either. The opening track on the CD, "Yerro Mama," the name of a great African hero, sounds like its roots are as much from a Friday night at the "local" in County Wicklow, as it does either Africa or London's Blues scene. From there it jumps into "Ya Ta Kaaya" ("I Want To Stay Fresh") with the familiar Bo Diddley riff chugging along like a steam engine. The combination of Justin's raw electric guitar and Juldeh's staccato scratches on the ritti makes for as exciting a Rock and Roll sound as I've heard in ages.
Yet aside from how exciting the music is, and how great it sounds, what's truly amazing is how seamless they have made the synthesis of the two traditions. In the past when I've heard these types of collaborations either one or the other tradition takes a back seat to the other. In this instance though they seem to meet at a half-way point where the music blends into one. In the liner notes for the CD Adams talks about how African musicians have been perfecting the science of music for hundreds of years.
Certain combinations of rhythms and melodies can elicit certain reactions in the listener. So when he and Juldeh would get together to create songs it was only a matter of Adams playing a tune once and they would both be on the same page musically almost immediately. Juldeh would recognize in Justin's playing patterns that were familiar to him from his own studies. Juldeh's father may have been gifted his musical abilities by a spirit of the forest, but he also passed along to his son the science that went into the making of a song. Hence the title of the disc – Soul Science.
Now don't be fooled into thinking that there's anything cold and clinical about this collaboration, or that it sounds like it was created in a laboratory. These guys won't have gone into the studio and thought about the music in the terms that I've described above. Just like the professional athlete who no longer has to think about the best way to throw a baseball because he can now do it instinctively, these guys don't think about their music in terms of formula anymore. This is music sung from the heart and played with a lot more soul than anything else you're liable to hear in the next little while.
Soul Science is one of the best meeting of musical minds that I've ever heard, and the result is a fusion unlike any you've heard before.