Bokante’s New Album, History, A Musical Journey

Bokanté encapsulates world rhythms like no other band. The band is the brainchild of Snarky Puppy’s Michael League and a vehicle for the marvelous vocals of Malika Tirolien, along with a roster of some of the most uniquely accomplished musicians around. Bokanté’s albums are always a treat.

The songs are always percussion rich due to the amazing crew of Weedie Braimah, 
Keita Ogawa, Jamey Haddad and André Ferrari with a huge battery of instruments and sounds. They are offset by the amazing string instrument team of Michael League, Chris McQueen, Bob Lanzetti and Roosevelt “The Dr.” Collier. Malika is an absolute star vocalist with an extroadinarily emotive voice able to sound tenderly sweet and extremely angry, sometimes within the same tune.

Here’s my track-by-track rundown — I hope I do the album justice:

On their third album, Bokanté have plugged into the blues, tracing the genre's roots in West Africa and the Arab world through the diaspora into the retro-modern present. These nine tracks tell — with lyrics sung mainly in Guadeloupean Creole — of outsiders and seers, memories and joy; of black history, global unity and the futility of war. Of taking time to rest, feel, love. Of the redemptive power of music — as a conduit, a change maker, a muse.
Bokanté on Bandcamp

Track By Track

Bliss has as rock mantra sounding oud-guitar opening with Malika’s buttery smooth vocals floating over the top. The rest of the band joins for the main theme and they click like clockwork. It’s a strong opener for the album.

Interesting side note, after writing  this description of Malika’s voice floating, a check of the lyrics shows  translation of the the second verse as “Inside us never felt so bright,
With our hearts floating like feathers” so that’s pretty right on.

Adjoni leads with a Jamie Haddad percussion burst with Malika leading a chant-like verse with a choral backing. Midway, there’s a brief oud section.  The main theme is a percussion driven clapping rhythm with Roosevelt Collier laying down some excellent lap steel voicing. The lyrics are about the journey of Adjoni, a young man whom people doubted but became successful, with his family still wondering if he’ll marry.

Pa Domi has Malika starting with a spiritual exhortation with excellent echoing vocal support for a bit and then the body of the song starts with some step-like strings (bass, oud, guitar). Malika’s voice is powerful as offset by the echoing backing vocals. Midway there’s a bit of a siren-esque section?  The lyrics are about the everday drag of pursuing money in a job and following a routine, reflected in the processional marching forward feel of the song. The backing vocal calls are a nice addition. Roosevelt on pedal steel is always an effective addition to the music.

Illiminé is a more anger-toned song, one of the brilliant aspects of Bokante and Malika’s singing. She can sound sugar sweet or deeply disturbed, often in the same song a is the case here.The mid-section features Roosevelt again. It’s a showcase piece for the band, Malika and Roosevelt (sounds like violin).

It’s incredible to me that one can get a feel for the Creole lyrics without understanding a word. Checking it out, the song is about looking forward to good times after the bad in nations around the world, with the lyric refrain “We’re through with bad times.” Amazing!
We need to smile like before

Flè a Mémwa is a slower guitar led tune and another showcase for Malika. After the A section, a deeper bass and kick drum rhytym is more pronounced and Roosevelt provides excellent accent to the main theme.  The vocal chorus soars midway and Malika’s call and response with them is very dynamic before the slow fade. The call and response perhaps is a reflection of the title which translates as “The Flower of Memory.”

Ta Voix starts with percussive clapping and Roosevelt’s playing sounds almost like a violin. The tune has a walking paced rhythm and Malika glides along. Roosevelt is featured in this tune alternating with and trading off Malika. It also features some super percussive breaks from the incredible team. The title means “Your Voice.”

Tandé (Heard) starts with Malika and support vocals in an electrified pulsing sound. The dampened main theme sounds more dreamlike than the other tunes thusfar.  There’s a shift midway to a faster paced tribal dance sound up to the powerful end.

Mikrob (Microbes) has a more sedate opening with hypnotic guitar. As with the prior tunes, there’s multiple layers  here – a vocal line, repeating guitar and the strong percussion section intertwining in a fine tonic.

History, the title track, closes the album. It happens to be the only song sung in English. It’s a bouncy tune driven by a repeat of bass-guitar-percussion rolling along. Roosevelt has a featured solo here in the middle with someone (Michael, Bob, Chris?) echoing him. The combo of Malika’s vox and Roosevelt’s wailing guitar is always excellent. The ending picks up in pace and volume to create the most full sounding section of the album, a fantastic way to end – with a hornet sounding swirl fadeout.

  • Malika Tirolien vocals
  • Weedie Braimah djembe, congas
  • Keita Ogawa congas, dohola, cymbal, chains, claps, bendir, bells, darbuka, surdo, caixa, riq, krakeb, kanjira, timbau, bomb legüero
  • Jamey Haddad Kuwaiti tar, ocean drum, finger cymbal, chains, bells, claps, kanjira, cowbell, shekere, palm brushes, vocal percussion, bendir, darbuka, metal pots, anklung
  • André Ferrari bombo legüero, frame drum, bells, grouse pipe, bass drum
  • Michael League guimbre, electric oud, electric bass, vocals, claps, ngoni, krakeb
  • Chris McQueen electric and acoustic guitars
  • Bob Lanzetti electric and acoustic guitars, nylon string guitar
    Roosevelt Collier lap steel guitar