The authentic sound of Africa

Suleman Chebe from Kilsyth has brought together a group of expatriate African and Scottish musicians to form the Glasgow African Balafon Orchestra (GABO) for the release of its debut album Jungle fever.

Wednesday, 7th October 2020, 2:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th October 2020, 2:10 pm
Jungle Fever by Glasgow African Balafon Orchestra

Suleman is respected in North Lanarkshire as the founder of the Kilsyth International Carnival (KIC), and across the UK for his work to promote authentic Ghanaian music and culture.

Two of the contributors to Jungle Fever will be particularly well known to those who attended the KIC.

Sam Okoo is a very physical lead percussionist on the djembe, known for his acclaimed 2009 album with Jimi McCrae “Scottish Pipes and African Drums”.

The urbane Liberian/Scottish guitarist and vocalist Jerry Boweh of Zuba - BassaBeat adds welcome charisma, but there is plenty of other outstanding talent evident, from the expert bass of Norman Villeroux to the cool tenor sax of Harry Weir.

GABO’s debut album has many of the characteristics of Ghanaian Highlife music.

This is a delightfully upbeat and hugely enjoyable hybrid jazz/calypso party genre that originated in fashionable Ghanaian nightclubs early in the 20th century.

Highlife uses the melodic and main rhythmic structures of traditional Akan music, but is played with a mixture of Western and African instruments.

It is characterised by striking vocal harmonies, complex rhythms, jazzy horns and multiple guitars.

Many concert-goers and jazz aficionados will be familiar with the very successful international band, Osibisa, consisting of four Ghanaian and three Caribbean musicians who popularised this music form in Europe from the late 1960s and are sometimes credited with inventing the concept of “World Music”.

Suleman’s band steers clear of gimmicks and has at the core a trio of traditional African wooden xylophones, with a mellow tonality and distinctive resonance.

Ambatayala is the opening track, a cheerful statement of musical intent that sets a happy tone and establishes the party mood for the orchestral delights to come.

The other tracks are all varied and worthwhile and I was especially thrilled to listen again to one of my old favourites, “Somebody Go’: a new arrangement of a call and refrain African folk song we first heard at the Kilsyth Carnival in 2007 when Suleman Chebe brought Gandawi, a group of Sissala traditional musicians and dancers, to perform at the KIC and Edinburgh Festival.

The eponymous final track, Jungle Fever, is an extrovert showcase anthem, starting with simple beats, a cheery introduction, and gradually building intricate criss-cross rhythms and joyous horns to a climax.

The pitch and timing are perfect, and the vocals and instruments weave together beautifully.

Suleman’s birthplace in the north-west of Ghana is at the ancient cultural and climate crossroads of the dense jungles, cities, and rustic farms and villages of coastal West Africa with the more arid nomadic and mystical deserts to the north.

It is a place of extraordinary and haunting beauty; and this music brings it to life.

Jungle Fever has a highly distinctive and unique ‘Savanna - Sissala’ sound, placing its’ musical roots firmly in the rich red earth and tribal rhythms of West Africa, but in a form that is accessible, international, and upbeat.

I greatly look forward to seeing them perform this as a live set at the earliest possible opportunity.

Jungle Fever is released on Friday (October 9), through Soundcloud.