Album Review: Afrikän Protoköl – Beyond The Grid [Abozamé Records, May 2017]

Beyond the Grid by Afrikän Protoköl innovatively fuses music from Europe and Burkina Faso. They raise an energetic plethora of styles within the album, ranging from afro-beat to jazz, to big band and rock. All of these are played with a love and enthusiasm, and follow their aim of crossing cultural boundaries through the individual nuances of the musicians involved.

Afrikän Protoköl is guided by saxophonist & composer and the group’s founder Guillaume Van Parys, who first teamed up with drummer Moïse Ouattara in Burkina Faso to create the project back in 2013. They succeeded in sharing and redefining their musical knowledge across Belgium and Burkina Faso. Indeed, half of the band (drums, bass, vocals and percussion) are from Burkina Faso, while the other half (saxophones and back-up vocals) are from Belgium and France.

The album is a complex union of musical traditions. The percussionist Zourantie Kone lays the foundations for African grooves either from a balafon or other percussive instruments, with Moïse playing drums on top of Achille Ouattara’s funky bass lines. Zourantie’s vocals are like calls to action, responded to by the rest of the band. The saxophones, made up of Guillaume, Frédéric Becker andYizih Yode, create engaging jazz-based harmonies and melodic riffs over this rhythmic base.

The effect is a guided musical journey. At times, the album feels like being in an afro-beat club – at others, like at the start of ‘Eastern Wind’ – there is the feeling of being in nature. Each song is held in a different light through tempo changes, and by the presence (or absence) of vocals, and the selection of instruments given the spotlight. The band is not afraid to use any musical device to explore combinations – instruments intertwine and complement each other, resulting in a plethora of new surprises and musical innovation. The final song ‘Walking Through‘ is uplifting and climatic, inclusive and groovy: emblematic of the album as a whole.