Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate – Monistic Theory [Cumbancha, 13th May 2016]

Joe Driscoll is a rapper originating from Syracuse, New York. He is well versed in a number of instruments and produces songs that are a blend of funk, folk and hip-hop. Sekou Kouyate is a master kora player from Guinea who plays Mandingue music, the traditional music of ethnically Mandingue Africans. Kouyate and Driscoll have come together here for a second time to produce Monistic Theory, an expressive album bursting with expert kora playing, rapping, singing, positive messages, and an unforgettable atmosphere.

After the sound of gushing water and spoken words, the album has an upbeat start with the song ‘Tamala’. ‘Tamala’ feels like a pop song that quickly climaxes with an incredible polyrhythm, and is enriched by Sekou’s kora playing. It’s a song where one should try to listen in on every single instrument being used, as each of them will surprise you. ‘Just Live’ comes next and is an incredible take on hip-hop: the song’s title capturing the dynamic spirit of the hip-hop genre perfectly. Hip-hop has always prided itself on being a descendant of mother Africa’s rhythms, and when we have traditional music playing to rap it feels like a musical utopia. That the music playing is Mandingue is even better: with the contemporary American music itself descending from West African cultures.

The album does get much quieter and more atmospheric at some points. ‘Wama’ is a slow song where we hear dramatic singing, rapping, and kora playing to a tempo much closer to the songs of Salif Keita. The slower tempo also allows us to truly enjoy the kora playing, which seems better suited to accompanying the dramatic moments on the album. ‘Wama’ then twists into a drum and synth solo that is great to listen to, but not quite as engaging the original chanting that we heard.

‘Master Blaster’ is a definite highlight of the album. It is a live cover of the Stevie Wonder song taken from his nineteenth album, Hotter Than July. It’s insanely groovy and at times it feels like we are listening to rocksteady.

The most popular ways of listening to music today are either playing a recording of it, or listening to it live. When listening to this recording, what will interest the listener most are not only the subtle sounds heard in their compositions, but also the spectacular rhythms that have been created here. The combination of the kora and drums for example give this album an unforgettable texture. If plugged into an amplifier and delivered to a live audience, what will fascinate them most is this album’s sheer liveliness. This album galvanises one’s soul much more than it pleasures a passing listener. An album of this sort is surely chock-full of philosophy, but the layers of it do not necessarily come through to us. We know that this is a meeting of minds, but the title requires a little more investigation. Regardless of this duo’s philosophy of their music, this collection of 10 songs is enjoyable.