Album Review: Daniel Haaksman – African Fabrics [Man Recordings, February 2016]

Daniel Haaksman is a superstar DJ in the making. His unique take on global rhythms has seen him receive many accolades, even filling in for Diplo on BBC Radio 1. With his distinctive, baile funk sound, this German selector and label boss has consistently been at the forefront of the global electronic and worldbeat movement since emerging in 2008. Joining a wave of DJ-producers to tap in to the rich pickings of African music, Haaksman shares his new LP, African Fabrics, with us.

From the first riff of opening track ‘Akbongi’, featuring avant-garde Afro electronic trail blazer Spoek Mathambo, it’s clear that Haaksam has not gone down the route of using samples from his extensive record collection. This is an album of collaborations and original recordings…and you can hear it! Recorded for the most part from the comfort of his Berlin studio, Haaksman has evidently reached far and wide to secure the hook ups for this ‘afro-future’ masterpiece.

At its core, African Fabrics is a ‘neo-highlife’ album, but Haaksman also takes us on a journey across borders, continents and styles. In Haaksman’s hands we can envisage a glistening future for classic 1980s highlife. He brings the genre up-to-date with rave-friendly production and unexpected arrangements. This neo-highlife theme is best shown in tracks like ‘Akbongi’, ‘Sembe Cne’, ‘Querido’ and ‘Saboda’ featuring Colombian based guitarist Bulldozer. The audio quality of the guitar and traditional instruments across the album sound fresh and consistent throughout.

In ‘The Tribe’, we are treated to a self-composed, unedited jam of central African one string fiddles, demonstrating Haaksam’s passion for authenticity and African compositional knowledge. It’s in tracks like ‘Kaggua’ where, refreshingly, Haaksam’s only afro inferences are the vocals. Here he showcases the minimal synth sounds we’ve come to expect and love from the vanguard of Berlin-based electronic producers, as he overlays the energetic vocals of Tshila and Ku Bo.

Every track on this album is an effortless and sensitively constructed celebration of the best from the west (and rest) of Africa. Unlike many albums from the African diasporas, African Fabrics is a pan-continental journey of cultures and traditions, old and new. ‘Black Coffee’ (ft. Dama Do Bling) and ‘Xinguila’ (ft. Throes & The Shine) are both rap tracks but are very distinctive and come from separate musical traditions and languages.

African Fabrics is a wholly original and organic work celebrating the best of Western electronica in synergy with exciting African talent and compositions. This is a sensitive, raw, up-beat, melodic and rhythmical journey across the great nation of Africa, produced by someone who clearly gives a damn.