Album Review: Ajate – Dala Toni (180g; May 2024)

Words by Lucas Keen

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Tokyo ten-piece Ajate uses the portmanteau ‘Afrobayashi’ to describe their original fusion of traditional Ohayashi music (played during Japanese ancestral festivals) and afrobeat.

Formed in 2009 by JunichiroJohnImaeda after a trip to Accra, the band’s third album, Dala Toni out via French label 180g, continues their exploration of the commonalities between Japanese and Ghanaian music.

This fusion is evident right from the start on “Waya Waya,” described in the liner notes as “The drunken anthem for drunkards.” It is propelled by a bell pattern reminiscent of the Kpanlogo rhythm synonymous with Ghanaian drumming and features slinky afrobeat guitar by Kenta Takeda and an overdriven jaate (a bamboo xylophone akin to the West African Balafon).

More cyclical xylophone enhances “Iduchihemo,” which includes call-and-response vocals and a hypnotic ostinato riff. The musical kinship extends with a trilling shinobue (a Japanese bamboo flute reminiscent of the Fula flute played across the West African Sahel).

There’s a distinctive Fela vibe to ‘Kopi Lakanka,’ which translates as ‘Would you like a coffee?’ It was written by Imaeda in homage to a friend who passed away, in the hope that one day they might sit down again for a coffee. And lest we think it’s all just great grooves, ‘Roghinaware,’ which closes the album, also contemplates separation and was written during the pandemic when the band’s activities were interrupted.

If there’s one drawback, it is that the five tunes, which make up this short but enjoyable album, are all at much the same BPM. This means tempo-wise, Ajate quickly finds their true north early and comfortably sits there for the duration of each tune and indeed the album.

Despite this, the record is genuinely interesting and unlike anything you may have heard before.

Ajate's latest release, Dala Toni, is now available via 180g.
You can purchase your copy of the album HERE