Bokanté’s “What Heat” Masterpiece

Bokanté’s second album “What Heat” is a musical masterpiece in so many ways. It’s one of those albums that you think “they don’t make them like this anymore” but of course “they” do, if the they are Michael League, Metropole Orkest, or Snarky Puppy.  I officially nominate this album for a Grammy award.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before jumping into the full review, let’s set the stage.  This is only the second album for Bokanté, one of several Michael League projects outside Snarky Puppy.  The band is an ensemble of world all-stars creating an eclectic mix of sounds that you’ve likely never heard before.

On lead vocals you’ve got Malika Tirolien singing mostly in Guadeloupean Creole and sounding sweet and passionate with fire in her voice. Roosevelt Collier is one of the world’s masters of steel pedal guitar and his sound throughout this album is distinctive and clear as a bell. On percussion and there’s a lot of it, there’s Jamey Haddad (Lebanon), André Ferrari (Sweden), and Keita Ogawa (Japan) so you know there’s a great mix. Not to mention Weedie Braimah on djembe so yeah we got beats.  Then of course, maestro Michael League on guitar, vocals, production, writing, arranging and everything else! Of course two pups themselves, Chris McQueen and Spaghetti Bob Lanzetti on guitars and vox.  So that’s Bokanté’s lineup and who needs anything more, right?

Wrong, let’s bring in the 52-piece Netherlands based Metropole Orkest led by the wonderful Jules Buckley — half big band, half pop symphony, this amazing group already won a Grammy for the Sylva collaboration with Snarky Puppy so what the hell, let’s see if that works?.   Absolutely brilliant, and perhaps to my ear, even more integrated with the music than on Sylva, the Orkest frequently takes what I fell are “solos” in several pieces and the music soars!  Put all those pieces together and you have a masterpiece of 8 movements. I’ll give a track by track rundown next.

  1. All the Way Home – Starts off with a haunting oud solo from Michael with the band/Orkest coming in with some deep sounds and claps, followed by the chorus and finally Malika with the oud sound and claps just continuing the beat throughout the tune.  Sung in Creole, Malika’s native language, the song sounds light but forceful but in reality reading the English translation, it’s basically telling someone to “get lost.”  The Orkest strings toward the closeout soar with some ominous dark notes and finally just the oud.
  2. Fanm – Fanm means “woman” in Creole and that’s what this song is about.  Strong women all over the world who thrive despite adversity.  It’s a uplifting call against tough odds.  Great chorus with string intro, followed by Malika of course. The beat driven tune gets stronger as it continues to encourage in it’s lyrics.  Just love Roosevelt’s solo toward the end, so great with the bank/Orkest backing.
  3. Lé An Gadé-w En Zyé (When I Look in Your Eyes) – This one’s about a failed relationship, once tight, now on the skids.  Nice guitar intro followed by blue vocals from Malika and some excellent band – Orkest trading along with the voice, Malika, shining throughout. The strings on this are just fantastic. with pizzicato interplay with flutes (so Sylva-esque)!
  4. Réparasyons (Reparations) – This is Weedie’s tune, just perfect and driving this tune throughout, also features a  great acoustic solo by Chris McQueen.  Gotta give hats off to Chris and Nic Hard for mixing with such clarity hear.  The separation of sound on this song is incredible, as it is throughout the album but this one you can hear perfectly.  The lyrics are about mending Africa after plundering its people and riches for centuries.  It’s about doing what is right and fair with no anger.
  5. Bòd Lanmé Pa Lwen (The Beach is Not Far) – Another nice oud (or guitar) intro along with interjection by “The Dr.”  The song is about a trek to the beach, but not in the traditional sense, under duress and unbearable conditions.  The Beach is Not Far appears to be an mantra for encouragement to get there.  The Dr. has such a great solo with a crack the whip sound from the Orkest and a great percussion accompaniment and Malika’s vocals just ring like hope with the Orkest strings.
  6. Don’t Do It – Super fast tune overall – what’s really great is the Orkest just jumping in right with the percussion on cue.  Like butter!  The string solo here sounds a little Bond-esque as they can do and this is another tune where MO just kills it.  The lyrics are another story indeed, admonishing a certain person who’s done bad stuff to just stop and leave us alone.  Love the Weedie closeout!
  7. Chambre à Échos (Echo Chamber) – This song sounds perhaps Egyptian and royal, the MO portion in the first third is magnificent.  Malika, singing about an Echo Chamber sounds both seductive and dangerous, which it turns out it is!   The chamber causes you to hear only yourself and not the ideas of others.  The guitar or other solo in the middle is wow! This song has such a Family Dinner feel. Malika + MO whoa!
  8. Maison En Feu (House on Fire) – Roosevelt bring us home baby with the House of Fire intro, probably my favorite tune on the disc after listening 6-7 times.  The chugga chugga train percussion coming in with the strings on top, it’s unbelievable (like Big Ugly on Culcha Vulcha), and Malika sounds like a hella rhythm machine.  That damn MO is unbelievable.  Again, The Dr.  with some great “solo” work here, it’s so damn hot!  Of course House on Fire literally is dangerous and must be flooded, with love in this metaphor, to extinguish it!  Again, the close here with MO, Bokanté and Malika is stunning.

I definitely believe this album is up there with the best and worthy of a Grammy.  I’ve listened about 6-7 times in the last two days and it gets better each time.

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