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Bokanté are a new group founded by Michael League of the Grammy award-winning, New York-based jazz collective, Snarky Puppy.
Hailed by Pulse Magazine as “nothing short of a world music super group”, Bokanté sees League joined by fellow Snarky Puppies Chris McQueen and Bob Lanzetti, Guadeloupian vocalist Malika Tirolien and musicians who have played with the likes of Paul Simon, Sting and Yo Yo Ma.
Bokante blend Caribbean and African sounds in psychedelic new ways, with percussion and guitar-heavy instrumentation, evocative compositions and searing energy.
Michael League, who plays everything from oud, Minimoog and fretless acoustic bass to bendir, riq and daf frame drum, says “I wanted to put together a band that traces the blues from its roots in Africa and the Arab world throughout the diaspora and into a modern context.”
With eight musicians from four continents, writing and recording an album is a complex process. Tirolien and League co-wrote remotely, fleshing out the ideas on the phone. Michael explains “I would send Malika the music and a lyrical concept that was socially conscious. She would write the lyrics and melody, demo the song and send it back.” This ping-pong approach resulted in the band’s debut album, ‘Strange Circles’, which goes from Zeppelin-esque blues stomp to folkloric Caribbean kaladja over the course its ten tracks.
Their follow-up album ‘What Heat’ has an earthy, almost rooted sound (think low brass, big strings, spiced up woodwinds) with Malika Tirolien’s astounding vocals covering several frequency bands. Singing in both Creole and French, Tirolien’s words draw nuanced pictures of the struggles we face in our world today – racism, the refugee crisis, a dying planet, apathy – but also offer hope for the future.
Malika has the gift of conveying real emotion, even if we don’t understand what it is she’s saying. “The important thing for us is that the groove feels good and the melodies resonate within you,” says League. “Because you don’t get to that second step – what are the lyrics about – until you’ve actually been enjoying the sound. He smiles. “Then they read the lyrics and go, ‘Oh. She’s talking about some heavy stuff.’”
Bokanté took their thrilling live show on an international tour last summer that hit eight countries and won them a legion of fans. In addition to their own headlining shows, the band made festival debuts at the Cambridge Folk Festival, WOMAD, Montreal Jazz Festival, WOMADelaide (Australia) and many more.
The diverse ensemble of different races and generations fleshes out Snarky Puppy’s funk and jazz-based sound to create a music rich in groove, melody and soul.
Bokanté play at The Apex on Wednesday 30 January at 7.30pm. Tickets are £20, with £5 tickets for those aged under 25. Ring the box office on 01284 758000 or see www.theapex.co.uk for more information, or to book.
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