Oh, the crimes that have been committed in the name of world beat. The United Nations is convening a court in the Hague to deal with the atrocities of Scandinavian didgeridoo players, scat-singing Bulgarians, Brits performing in made-up languages, Americans affecting Caribbean accents, classical Indian ragas set to drum machines -- the affronts to humanity go on and on. But one merger of West African and Hawaiian styles will never be indicted, thanks to the good humor and beautiful textures of the Djeli Moussa Diawara and Bob Brozman collaboration, Ocean Blues -- From Africa to Hawaii.
Diawara and Brozman, who first met in 1999 at a musical festival on the blue ocean island of Réunion, aren't the least bit interested in carving out a world-beat genre, as the pastiche approach of this off-the-cuff session proves. They just want to make music together. Thus the melancholy Kanun revels in the deep string strata of Djeli Moussa's rippling kora harp offset by Bob's National steel guitar played Hawaiian slide-style, only to be followed by Maloyan Devil, a comic blues number voiced with Leon Redbone angst by the American as the Guinean pours an astonishing number of notes per measure through the cracks. It's a bit of a goof in the same vein as the calypso Uncle Joe. But the crackling energy of two prodigious musicians in love with their respective acoustic instruments throws a dazzling corona around these novelty numbers. Instead of a distancing effect, the sloughed-off humor comes across as a symptom of simpatico warmth.
Both artists have a long history of playing other people's music. Diawara served for years in the legendary Cuban son-influenced Rail Band with his half-brother Mory Kante and then went on to flamenco and techno territory. Brozman, meanwhile, toured and recorded with Hawaiian music titans the Tau Moe Family and most recently cut a disc with Okinawa's Takashi Hirayasu that bristles with the same acoustic fire as Ocean Blues. Together both men prove that plucked instruments are plucked instruments, and two contrasting styles can magnetize, providing the pluckers have got the urge, oomph, and smarts to bend their strings a little.
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The only drawback to the disc is the hurried nature of the project, which was done in a single day in Santa Cruz, California. Hip Hop, which begins with faux drum-machine beats as Diawara taps out an urban rhythm on the big gourd of his kora, obviously is a jam based on the loosest of ideas. Other cuts clearly are the province of one man's territory or the other's -- from flamenco to slack key -- with the second guy riding musical shotgun, popping off impressive riffs that still feel as locked in as a mouse in a trap. You can't listen without smiling, nor can you resist the joy as these two artists craft a beguiling mesh of instruments untrammeled by any studio technology other than what it takes to glue their buzzing electrons on to compact disc.