Album Review: Kolonel Djafaar – Getaway [Batov Records; April 2024]

Words by Ursula Billington


Antwerp’s Kolonel Djafaar has taken the opportunity of their first full-length release with London’s mighty Batov Records to break free from their norm and embark on a ‘journey of musical exploration’. The album, Getaway, was released on the 5th of April . On first listen, the sound feels familiar to a Batov regular, or a fan of Budos Band. This brassy blend of Ethio-jazz with a nod to psych-rock and surf is a sound we have heard many times before.

Even so, the band could get away with being derivative if it were a sparkling or otherwise standout example of the genre. But instead it feels like an album written to a recipe: two cups Budos Band, two tbsp early Jungle By Night and a dash of Ennio Morricone, and we’re offered up something tasty but not exactly innovative.

The album’s opener, ‘Urban Dweller,’ is promising, with a whiff of intrigue and fat, satisfying horn swells. It rattles along nicely, with more than a hint of good things to come.

Then comes the louche groove and down-low melody of ‘Ponyard,’ playing on the popularity of Afro-inspired melodies but distilling their typical complexity and tempo down to a simplified form.

The brooding ‘I Call Her Winnie’ is an early highlight with its dark bassline and heavy drums which, alongside tinkling bells and an on-trend wonky beat against washed-out enigmatic backing, lend a thrilling air of menace.

The drop into the horn line has the intoxicating whiff of Boomtown festival c.2014, with bouncy riffs reminiscent of Smerins Anti-Social Club, Babyhead, Yes Sir Boss and Gypsy Hill. Not particularly original a decade on but, yes, punchy, infectious and lots of fun.

Instrumentation plays a clever role in places. A keyboard solo transports us to the Middle East; cool strung-out synth heightens the tension of the grimy disco track “Convoi Exceptionell” and the beautifully understated jazzy trumpet in “Kelmendi” is complemented by a tight horn arrangement.

We’re starting to get the impression the album would be a real good time in a sweaty basement venue, particularly given Kolonel Djafaar’s hometown reputation for electrifying live shows. It’s when we hit the sixth track and first single “Siren’s Glitch” that the music starts to properly pick up pace, and ears prick up in excitement. More in line with Kolonel Djafaar’s previous releases, the drums are really present here, elevating the whole mix. Horns are rasping and raw; the track feels powerful and alive.

Then, just like that, it’s back to that lazier tempo, those repetitive horn lines and subdued vibe. A listener could be forgiven for losing patience with the tracks that follow.

The album does harbour a few more standout moments. Ironically, “Apologies in Advance” offers one of the most exciting sections so far as a fuzzy wash of noise morphs into feedback, then builds to a psych wig-out climax with swirling guitars and surf tremolo ringing out over heavy drums. It’s the only moment that sounds like a band letting loose. For the most part, the sound does feel a little constricted and controlled.

This makes sense for a band that has taken, in their own words, a ‘cinematic approach’ to this album. The result is a highly polished and well-produced sound; but backfires where they’ve produced an album akin to a soundtrack – by definition, music designed as a background to the action.

Listeners may see visions of detectives on the prowl, villains stalking their lair, a heist in full swing – all transporting us away from the music and to a more exciting place in our own imagination.

Getaway is clearly skilful, it’s tight and slick and tuneful – perfect for radio play, as evidenced in support for 2021’s Cold Heat EP from 6 Music’s Gideon Coe, Worldwide Radio, Seattle’s KEXP and others.

But for home listening, it maybe plays a bit too safe: it’s inoffensive, the kind of album you wouldn’t turn off while working but wouldn’t put on for vibing. Perhaps that’s only natural for an album written ‘deep in the heart of a tranquil forest.’ The result is clearly thoughtful, carefully written and sensitively produced.

But while Kolonel Djafaar says the setting enabled them to “embrace the freedom to make noise without restraint,” the music’s sparse instrumentation and subdued quality give the impression that it’s waiting, on tenterhooks, for a lead line to burst in and wail all over it. Vocals or a stratospheric horn or screaming solo could fill the gap, but ultimately it feels like the fire that’s missing.

The final track, ‘Whatever Happened to the Common?,’ offers the listener a reprieve, kicking with energy to leave us on a high. It’s a classic afrobeat feel, the drummer’s clearly having a great time, and we’re treated to some seriously silky trombone, sliding scurrilously up into the earholes. It’s a welcome change of pace but a listener might be left wishing they’d given this much energy to a handful of the preceding ten tracks.

They say the album was “fuelled by hearty breakfasts.” Maybe Kolonel Djafaar should order a side of extra beans and a bottle of chilli sauce with their next fry up.



Getaway, Kolonel Djafaar's second album, is out now via Batov Records.
You can get your copy HERE