Album Review: Koichi Sakai feat. Afla Sackey – Wono LP [Olindo Records; March 2020]

Moved by the love for both electronic and West-African music, Koichi Sakai joins forces with Ghana-born percussionist Afla Sackey in a synth infused, hip-wriggling psych take on West-African flavours. Wono is a seven track LP spanning from acid inspired slow house, to meditative kora-based tracks. Reminiscent of the psychedelic atmosphere of electro-rock band Ozric Tentacles, Wono balances acoustic and electronic percussions and instruments in an original and extremely danceable mix. 

Koichi Sakai is a London based Japanese producer and DJ. His love for African music has become part of his musical identity, shining through his work with Kay Suzuki as Afrobuddha or at his Afrobeat Vibration nights. Afla Sackey leads Afrik Bawantu, a ten-piece afro-funk orchestra, and collaborates as a percussionist and singer with artists such as KOKOROKO.

The album’s soul is percussive, rhythm takes the lead inviting the listener to dance. Stable pulsations, colourful synthesizers and African instruments capture the attention immediately. The welcoming round tones of the balafon introduce ‘Atenteben Blues’, while the charming kora tones of Kadialy Kouyate give ‘Yamb’ nurturing meditative colours. Darker tones animate ‘Rebirth’ a blissful journey of discovery through padded sounds, in complete opposition to the joyful ‘Suolo’ that closes the album.

Wono carefully explores shared aspects of two distant musical languages creating a powerful synergy. The LP has intense evocative powers, communicating clearly the emotional intention of the artist. While effective in what it does, the album could use some spice: daring to explore further from the comfortable language it has created, looking for rupture, intensity and experimentation. Playing more with the tempos and developing ideas could have brought out hidden qualities further emphasizing the emotional range of the music. Nonetheless, the album is widely enjoyable and suggestive, and often that’s all you want and need from music.