International super group Bokanté, led by Grammy-winning Snarky Puppy founder Michael League, are set to release a brand-new studio album, History, via Real World Records consisting of nine tracks celebrating black history, global unity and the futility of war. The first single “Adjoni” is out today and you can watch the song’s official video below.
Consisting of members from five countries and four continents, different genders, races and generations working in harmony and celebrating individuality, Bokanté are united in the belief that music should be a voice for the voiceless. Recalling rhythms from West Africa as well as those of Guadeloupe’s drum-centric Gwo ka, lead single “Adjoni” is a story of a life on the spectrum and of brilliance in the margins; the lyrics of “Iliminé” speak to the protective properties of love, offer a mantra to keep us joyful regardless.
History finds them exploring further, dressing folkloric instruments including the Arabic oud, West African ngoni and North African guembri, the bass lute favored by Morocco’s Gnawa maalems, in western clothes. Interweaving layers of percussion with all the nuanced skill expected of four percussion maestros: André Ferrari of Swedish folk renegades Väsen. Ex-Berklee music professor Jamey Haddad (Sting, Paul Simon). Nagasaki-raised, New York-based Keita Ogawa (Cecile McLorin Salvant). Ghanaian-New Orleanian drum king Weedie Braimah (Christian Scott), a special guest on What Heat, a vital band member now.
Band members including Snarky Puppy guitarists Chris McQueen and Bob Lanzetti and South Florida raised-lap steel player Roosevelt Collier had previously recorded remotely, absorbing and embellishing the music sent to them in files by co-writers Tirolien and League, who was often elsewhere with other projects. While History’s painterly lyrics were primarily written by the Guadalupe-born Tirolien during lockdown in Montreal, the re-opening of the world saw the entire ensemble converge on League’s home in a tiny village outside Barcelona, Spain.
Bokante’s founder has long been a student of instruments from elsewhere. League has learned Turkish percussion in Istanbul and traditional guembri techniques from Gnawa mentors. He has immersed himself in the oeuvres of such feted Malian musicians as Ali Farke Touré and ngoni- wizard Bassekou Kouyaté.
With lyrics sung mainly in lead singer Malika Tirolien’s Guadeloupean Creole, her honeyed voice channels a zeitgeist recently focused on issues including identity, decolonisation and alternative histories. The only song sung in English is title track ‘History’ with its Prince-esque guembri riff which League describes as, “intending to show the power of the band.”
After two acclaimed albums — 2017’s Strange Circles and What Heat, the band’s Grammy-nominated 2018 acoustic collaboration with the Metropole Orkest — and a whole lot of touring, the vibe and message on History are stronger than ever.