/ 3 February 2012

Magic musical fusion of American South and West Africa

Magic Musical Fusion Of American South And West Africa

The opening guitar riff cranks out of the hi-fi, sounding like a raw, dirty rock ‘n roll guitarist mainlined straight from the American South.

Then the high-pitched ritti, a one-stringed West African fiddle, wades in, followed closely by some pounding drums and monster bass. By the time Gambian griot Juldeh Camara’s powerful voice joins the pulsing music, it is clear that this is unlike anything that has been heard before.

The band goes by the name JuJu, an amalgamation of founders Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara’s first names, and their new album is In Trance (Sheer Sound).

This is not their first collaboration. The two met in 2007 after Adams had just finished a stint as Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant’s guitarist. He was also behind the production desk for Malian Tuareg outfit Tinariwen’s 2007 album, Aman Iman.

“When I met Juldeh, it was perfect timing. I mean, I had just finished working with Robert Plant and he was off to America to do that album with Alison Krauss,” said Adams, speaking by phone from his London home.

Musical chemistry
“I had done a lot of work with Tinariwen and so I had a lot of experience with West African music and, from working with Robert Plant, I had experienced a lot more blues-inspired music. So when Juldeh came along and suggested working together, it was just ideal. I thought it would be a one-off project but then we started doing gigs and the gigs were really great and then, once we started playing live, it became another thing.”

Two albums followed, Soul Science in 2007 and Tell No Lies in 2009, both of which were attributed to Adams and Camara.

“Then with this new album we called it [the band] JuJu because it felt like a different thing again due to the drummer and bassist we used on this record,” said Adams. “Billy Fuller worked with me in the Robert Plant band playing bass and what I like about him is he has this indie aesthetic; he knows a lot about psychedelic music and dub, and he has worked with Massive Attack and he is in a band with the drummer from Portishead.

“What was interesting about [the drummer] Dave Smith was I wanted to find a drummer in the United Kingdom who knew more about West African rhythm than me, who would be pushing me. I never wanted to have a straight rock drummer. What I am interested in is the subtlety of rhythm and I didn’t want someone going bush bash bush bash all over the record and yet I did want the power of the kit.”

“Dave has studied a lot in West Africa and takes it very seriously. He is a jazz drummer by trade,” Adams said.

Freestyle innovation
The resultant sound that has been produced by these four great musicians is something to hear. Complex, extended, psychedelic West African rock jams are what you can expect, with songs stretching from five minutes to 14.

“When we started playing gigs, we found that both Juldah and I have the same tendencies to extend the songs,” Adams said. “In Juldah’s mind what he is doing is a very African thing, where you respond to the audience by doing variations on a theme, so there is no set structure to a song.

“It’s basically a riff with various variations. The same song can have a three-minute version or an hour-long version.

“In my mind, my references are psychedelia or Miles Davis in the Seventies, or listening to a dub record where one instrumental track drifts into another, or Can in the Seventies,” Adams said.

“All of this music is trying to take the audience somewhere through their repetitive nature.”

Although Soul Science and Tell No Lies were great rocking fusion records, it is clear that In Trance has taken Adams and Camara’s collaborations to the next level.

Getting down raw and dirty

Justin Adams was the son of a diplomat and some of his formative years were spent in Egypt and the Middle East. He was introduced to Arabic music from a young age.

“The thought that the Arab world was part of my life growing up has to have had an impact on me, whether through music or language,” Adams said.

“I went back to Cairo a couple of years ago, the first time in a long time — it’s such an extraordinary place.”

Adams’s roots go down to the post-punk movement. He started his career playing with new-wave band the Impossible Dreamers in the United Kingdom and later joined post-punk pioneer Jah Wobble’s band.

Adams said that, musically, he was naturally drawn to “raw and dirty” music, whether that was Seventies reggae and dub, Twenties acoustic blues, Fifties electric blues, the Clash, the Stooges,or a collection of cassettes from Morocco that he treasures.

“I never saw these things as being disconnected,” Adams said. “The thing about my view of punk was more like the Clash view — it was completely open. Punk was all about getting back to the original rock ‘n roll spirit.”

In the mid-Nineties, Adams began working with a French outfit called Lo’Jo, who went to Bamako in Mali to record.

Middle of nowhere
“We went to Bamako and we heard these guys playing guitar in this great style and, when we asked them, they told us it was the music of their friends, Tinariwen,” Adams said. “We were sufficiently intrigued to want to go and find them.

“The town that Tinariwen were living in was right in the middle of the Saharan Desert,” he said.

“When I first met Ibrahim [ag Alhabib], the singer and songwriter, it was clear that here was a man with incredible charisma, and he had this beautiful, authentic roots-guitar style that hadn’t been heard and I absolutely loved it.”

Adams would go on to produce Tinariwen’s first album to be released to an audience beyond West Africa, The Radio Tisdas Sessions, in 2001, and would return to be at the helm for their 2007 album, Aman Iman.

“I didn’t have any idea they would have the success that they’ve had; I thought it might be a little something for real world-music aficionados.

“It has been very pleasing to see,” Adams said.

“When I first started working with Robert Plant, he said, ‘What you been up to?’ and I said casually, ‘Oh, well, I’ve been in the Saharan Desert working with this Tuareg guitar band — as one does — and he said, ‘Well, next time you go, let me know. I’ll come with you’.

Impressive CV
“I took that with a pinch of salt and then, sure enough, I was invited to come back and play the festival in the desert and I told Robert and he was like, ‘Great, let’s go’.

“To be playing in the middle of the Sahara with Robert Plant and then Ali Farka Toure coming on right after us, it was amazing. I still can’t believe we did it.”

So, with Plant, Tinariwen, Wobble, Brian Eno and Sinéad O’Connor listed as collaborators, I asked Adams whether there was anyone else with whom he would like to work. “The one — that I think I would be too nervous to play on — is I would love to play guitar on a Bob Dylan track,” he said, chuckling to himself.

Well, most musicians would love to have that on their CV, I said.

“If I had said 15 years ago that I would like to play with Robert Plant, that would have been ridiculous, so I kind of believe anything’s possible,” he said.