Alhousseini Anivolla & Girum Mezmur (from the album Afropentatonism available on Piranha Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
Hailing from two countries separated by thousands of miles yet united by shared musical heritage, guitarists Alhousseini Anivolla (Niger) and Girum Mezmur (Ethiopia) are already household names in their respective homelands. Anivolla has an acclaimed history, including time spent with the potent desert Blues band Tinariwen, and leads his own trio, Anewal. Mezmur has collaborations with 'crossover' stars Angelique Kidjo and Ali Keita in his resume, not to mention being musical director for legendary singer Mahmoud Ahmed. Between these two, then, we have decades of musical experience, expertise and collected knowledge. Their band on their recent dup release, Afropentatonism, is rounded out by percussionist Misale Legesse and septuagenarian mandolin virtuoso Ayele Mamo, plus two players of uniquely Ehtiopian instruments; Habtamu Yeshambel on masinko (one-stringed violin) and Anteneh Teklemariam on krar (a five-stringed lyre, tuned to pentatonic scale).
Fans of Tinariwen will be familiar with the ringing, Blues-based guitars which sound forth on opener “Awash Ammalele”; traditional African-American Blues infused with an aroma of heat and dust over a dancing, effervescent pulse. The music here, though, is a little more relaxed, a little gentler than that produced by the aforementioned Malian rockers. Mamo's twinkling, vibrato mandolin adds a warm, shimmering wash. Yeshambel's masinko colours, underscores and weaves its way between melody and rhythm. The deep-bass krar 'walks' in soft splashes, connecting the dots, while Legesse's hand-drums roll out like calm ocean waves. The liner notes of this album talk about the uniting musical language that is the pentatonic scale, an ancient five-notes-per-octave system upon which almost all other scales are built. It is a fascinating subject, but you don't need any knowledge of music theory to enjoy the results as presented here.
The music on Afropentatonism feels both joyous and organic simultaneously, with songs and melodies seeming to grow as they are played; the fertile ground of talent watered with inspiration and the splendid vagaries of the human mind. “Asalam” unfurls like an unruly shrub, and rises and spreads in branches to the sun. The grand plan becomes clear as the disparate strands of sound unite into simple yet hypnotic patterns. This feeling of 'looseness' in tandem with 'tight' playing is surely the ultimate aim of all musical collectives. The six players assembled here are masters of their respective instruments. That alone, isn't enough to guarantee 'success' (as pernicious a word as the modern world can offer). Heart, passion and a certain level of instinctive connection is needed. On Afropentatonism this group have this and more.
“Toumast Enkere” cooks and shimmers with subtle percussion and teasing lines until the krar swirls to life, pulling the band together and launching them easily on a sun-soaked, easy-tempo journey. “Isouwad” plunges deep into currents of rhythm which pull and sway. Those yet to experience this genre of music may well be astounded at just how familiar these tracks sound to Western ears. Swirls of traditional Country, Jazz, even modern Rock and, of course, the Blues form a large part of Afropentatonism. Those already in love with the Roots-based music from this continent will certainly want to add this record to their collection. The playing is delightful, stirring and, at times, such as on the breathtaking finale to “Isouwad,” exhilarating.
The sound of the 'desert Blues' guitar must surely mark as one of the most enthralling and exciting in music today. Cross-pollinations of styles and technique seldom fail to produce interesting results. Indeed, such movements are vital to inject freshness and vitality into the art form. In recent years, it seems, such collaborations between the Eastern and Western sides of the African continent have become increasingly more difficult to accomplish. Politics and violence, those well-fitted yet often ugly bed-fellows, throw up a wall to freedom of movement. All the more reason, then, to celebrate Afropentatonism and to treasure it. (by Chris Wheatley)
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