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Band of the month

June 3, 2017

JUNE 2017

I came across the work of the Sierra Leone musician Sorie Kondi three years ago, and I was so intrigued by his story that I got in touch with the man who first brought him to America, Boima Tucker (aka Chief Boima), and Boima gave me an interview at the time. There could hardly be a greater contrast between the musical backgrounds of the two men who form the Kondi Band. Sorie is a traditional musician from an impoverished corner of western Africa while Boima, an American born DJ with a Sierra Leone heritage, is a pioneer of “global bass” music. They’ve made an album together though – Salone, which is released today, and it’s like they’ve been working together all their lives.

Born blind, Sorie couldn’t do farming work like the other boys. Someone gave him a kondi (the instrument after which he later named himself, a thumb piano), and he taught himself to play. The war forced him to leave his home and seek refuge in Freetown where he recorded an album in 1998. But then the war came to Freetown, and the master tapes of the album were lost amid the destruction. So he found himself busking for coins on the streets of a city where almost everyone was suffering due to poverty and war.

Slowly he got back on his feet and made a few albums. It was in 2007 that an American produced video of one of his songs, Without Money, No Family, appeared on Boima’s facebook feed. Boima was immediately inspired to remix the track. And for a time, that was that. “And then I got a phone call one day from Luke Wasserman [Sorie’s producer], who asked if I would be willing to do a whole remix album of Sorie’s new material …”

Once crowdfunding had been organised and visa problems conquered, Sorie arrived in the US in 2012 to play a few shows. It was then that Boima  began to see the potential of a collaboration. Living in Freetown, Sorie was no stranger to electronic music. Since the war’s end traditional instruments were in short supply, but there was a proliferation of synthesizers and digital studios (Boima credits hip hop artist Jimmy B for leading the way in new technology). Sorie had clear ideas in his head of how he’d like his music to sound. For Boima the challenge was how to achieve a synthesis which preserved the unique qualities of the original – the rippling sound of the kondi, and Sorie’s laidback voice.

The result is a success, an album that has a mood and a beauty all of its own.  Rolling Stone describe it as “deeply hypnotic electro-acoustic trance music, warped by echo and multi-tracked vocals, spiked with live brass touches that conjure vintage dub reggae.” The lyrics are incisive too, unfortunately no translations have been provided on the Bandcamp site. Projects like this, insisted Boima speaking to me in 2014, do not represent an abandonment or a turning away from traditional music. “People like Sorie Kondi … provide us with a pathway to take traditional instruments to a higher level, skill wise and creatively. He is combining the digital recording culture of Freetown with traditional playing styles … I’m hoping to help him take this ability global. He is a true visionary artist, and I feel privileged to be able to collaborate with him !”

Sorie and Boima are in Europe now touring to promote the album. On July 16th you can see them in Brockwell Park in south London. I’d also encourage you to check out some of Sorie’s acoustic work.

Kondi Band – Titi Dem Too Service

Kondi Band – Thogolingo Dembi Na

Kondi Band – Belle Wahalla

Kondi Band – Without Money, No Family (Chief Boima Remix)

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