The London-based quintet Fofoulah (meaning “it's there” in Wolof) was formed in 2011 and features Tom Challenger on saxophone and keyboards, Batch Gueye on vocals, sabar and dance, Phil Stevenson on guitar, Johnny Brierley on bass, Dave Smith on drums, and Kaw Secka on vocals and sabar. With the rhythms of the Sabar drums - a traditional form of Wolof drumming from the Gambia and Senegal – at its heart, Fofoulah’s music has evolved into an inspired cosmopolitan mélange that also incorporates elements of electronic music, dub, improvisation and afro-rock. Like the complex city they live in, their music is shaped and lifted by diverse sound-worlds and cultures.
Having performed mainly in the creative hubs of east London and Bristol, in 2013 Fofoulah released the ‘Bene Bop EP’, a collaboration with Senegalese singer Biram Seck. Later that year the band entered the famed Real World Studios near Bath to begin work on their radiant debut album ‘FOFOULAH.’ Produced by drummer Dave Smith ‘FOFOULAH’ is a previously unvisited crossroads where Sabar rhythms meet dub basslines and sci-fi synths; liquid melodies and Wolof rap entangle with trance-like dance grooves; and raw guitars, horns and samples blend with west and north African song forms. In the album’s liner notes, bass player Johnny Brierley describes the creative journey that led to the making the album: Fofoulah followed up their first record with an even more shapeshifting and adventurous recording. Daega Rek (The Truth) is brought into sharp focus by the rhythms and vocals of Gambian sabar drummer Kaw Secka and the vivid production of keyboardist/saxophonist Tom Challenger. Slippery sabar beats, dystopian electronics and echoing, shamanic chants ratchet up both the dub quotient and the dramatic tension. Creating a soundworld that is both earthy and urban, futurist and rooted.
After the release of their self-titled album, the band played extensively in the U.K. and Europe where – spontaneously – every concert would see Kaw Secka rise to the microphone (with his tama – a talking drum) and rap over the last song, cuing rhythmic patterns for the group to play in unison (called Bakas). It was decided to take this exploratory part of the shows forward into the next realm. The concept that emerged for this album involved combining recordings of drums and percussion (laid down at Real World Studios) with improvisatory vocalizations and a production aesthetic that pushed the band’s collective sound in a much more electronic and dub-based direction.
The resultant tracks were shaped by Challenger in his studio (Brockley, London), fusing the new rhythm sessions with a variety of manipulated, previous recordings of the band – while also adding an array of synthesizers and a vast sample palette. Secka then came in to lay down vocals and it was these contributions that went on to define the final songs. The rhythmic propulsion of the initial recordings made by Smith and Secka at Real World, melds with a backdrop of constantly shifting sonic colors – Brierley’s deep, melodic bass lines, underpin the evolving patterns of Stevenson’s guitar which in turn, intersect with Challenger’s keyboards and the urgency of Secka’s incantations. The emphasis on the sonic structure and the identity of the material showcases its influences – traditional sabar drumming meeting glitchy electronics; and dub textures blending with elements of footwork and drum & bass.
“Some of us grew up within this culture, some of us studied the rhythms but most importantly we all realized and embraced the undeniable power and energy of these (sabar) drums” Johnny Brierley