Album Review: Ariwo – Quasi [MANANA Records; May 2019]

A four piece, Ariwo is made up of: Hammadi Valdes from Cuba on percussion; Oreste Noda; Canadian Jay Phelps (a renowned trumpeter who has played with Hugh Masekela, Wynton Marsalis and Soweto Kinch, among others); and Iranian-born composer/producer Pouya Ehsaei. They specialise in bringing traditional rhythms together into a modern sound. The name “Ariwo” translates from Yoruba into English as “noise”, but surely this is too simplistic a term for the sound Ariwo make.

Onto their second album, Quasi aims to build on their initial success – not to mention the group’s live reputation, which is formidable. Together they are an intriguing rhythmic combination. To these ears, the Ariwo sound is primarily Afro-centric, but the electronic vibe comes through loud and clear.

Opener ‘Ireme’ has a haunting African sound to it, with a programmed beat-laden backing, along with chanting – all adding up to a mystical atmosphere. Roughly halfway in, what sounds like a saxophone blasts its way to the surface, charging the dynamic. On ‘Pyramid’, we hear a solid drum running throughout, plus a range of other sounds, and then pulsating rhythms kick in, keeping our attention fixed. Title track ‘Quasi’ starts off quiet with a polyrhythmic splash of instruments all chugging along at a steady, relentless pace.

Further into this album, we come to ‘Dasht’, where the band show their versatility by going for a dreamy soundscape, preferring piano over drums. Ariwo bring a Latin quality to ‘El Alacrán’ with Phelps’ trumpet coming in over the drums, resulting in a mesmerising rhythmic explosion (sounding like Congotronics in places). One is left asking: How much more percussive can a band get?

Overall, I found Quasi to be a listening thrill. Not every tune had me enthralled, but the weaker spots were more than outweighed by the stronger ones. This is a fine display of the power of rhythm and, although it didn’t get me dancing, it is clear that Ariwo know how to bring out a sound with a production style that I just love. Maybe a slow burner, but still very much a burner nevertheless.