The second CD release to flow from the groundbreaking website-turned-label Awesome Tapes From Africa is a knockout. Bola is a singing griot from northern Ghana who plays the 2-string kologo lute. The formula is simple. There’s a drum machine, a synth vamp that sounds like a piano played in mid range, a pumping bass line, an interlocking kologo line, and–the clincher–Bola’s wild, ripping vocal, slashing through the mix like a chainsaw through Styrofoam. Truth be told, there’s not a whole lot more to say about the music. The eight tracks are all very similar, pounding minor-key romps that cycle mercilessly. The sound is a formula; there’s nothing arty going on her at all. Bola’s singing voice has the elemental appeal of the best Malian hunter’s music, another genre dignified by rough, powerful vocals–perfectly tuned shouting. “Yine Mmema” has a bit of stagger to the high-pitched, plinky kologo part. “Tigantambame” is a little more focused and driving in its underlying vamp, giving that amazing vocal a bit more edge. But these are minor points. Essentially, this set of songs is one ecstatic trance from start to finish.
As I write this, the release has been out two months. No biggie. The cassette actually came out in 2009. And despite the technological aspects of the sound, its essence has probably been unchanged for centuries. If you are losing patience with high-concept, cross cultural experiments, perfectly polished studio masterpieces, and looking for something gutsy, raw, and anything but precious, Bola is for you. This music’s spare sound and wrenching vocals make it ripe for sampling and remixing, and while I’d be happy to hear this sound peeking out from any club mix anywhere, at the most basic level, the vibe of the electrified village, so bracingly captured here, can’t really be improved upon.