Album Review: Bokanté and Metropole Orkest – What Heat [Real World Records; 28th September 2018]

Two hot, Grammy award-winning jazz outfits – Bokanté (founded by Michael League of the multicultural New York-based group Snarky Puppy) and Metropole Orkest (the jazz and pop orchestra whose chief conductor Jules Buckley had previously collaborated with Snarky Puppy in 2016) – released What Heat on 28th September 2018 for Real World Records: a commentary on the state of our world; a common thread that runs throughout is resistance to power.

All of the album’s tracks are sung by Bokanté vocalist Malika Tirolien, whose warm and soft timbre draws you in immediately. Her voice compliments the earthy acoustics of the album, creating a space for the listener that isn’t overbearing. Shouting over the rooftops with political messages can turn people off, so this smooth method can lull potential naysayers into a false sense of security. Whilst most of the lyrics are sung in Creole, the music really does speak for itself. letting non-Creole speakers understand the sentiments displayed.

This is particularly well-demonstrated in the first half of What Heat. ‘All the Way Home’ sets the tone as a moody warning signal to the leaders of the world who continually fail the communities they are supposed to represent. ‘Fanm’ (The Woman) can be described as an upbeat dance track celebrating the lives of women, with its guitar reminiscent of Joan Armatrading. ‘Réparasyons’ (Reparations) takes on the long-standing issue of stolen wealth and identity, exploring diffused anger that lends itself to sheer impatience. A personal favourite is ‘Lè An Gadé-w An Zyé’ (When I Look in Your Eyes), an unintentional moment of comic relief reflecting upon the bizarre moment when one person in a relationship realises that this wasn’t quite what they had signed up for.

The last track, ‘La Maison En Feu’, leads us back into reality with an ambiguous feeling, leaving more to be desired instead of serving a fiery narrative that the song’s title suggests. Upon reflection, however, this anti-climax reminds us of a prevalent complacency embedded within many minds across the world that prevents any progress being made. Thankfully, there are enough hopeful moments that prevent What Heat from feeling too cynical.