Bokanté

The word Bokanté means ‘exchange' in Guadeloupean Creole, the language of vocalist Malika Tirolien's childhood island. A highly appropriate name for a group of musicians from 5 countries (and 4 continents) whose cultural and musical identities converge in the music they create together. It’s music that traces the blues, from its roots in Africa and the Arab World, and throughout the diaspora, and places it firmly into a modern context. 

John Lennon told us, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” And while Snarky Puppy leader Michael League was in Montreal making other plans, he heard the voice of local resident Malika Tirolien, who’d ended up in Canada following a circuitous journey from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

A chance exchange between the two kindred spirits led to League writing some music and melodies specifically for her which he sent to Tirolien with lyrical concepts attached. Tirolien then wrote lyrics and melodies, demoing and ping-ponging the new content back to Michael who was on the road with other bands until they had created an album’s worth of songs.

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 towards human suffering— and offer words of thankfulness for those things which unify us, as well as hope for the future of our race.

League kept tinkering with his little experiment by trading his bass in for a baritone guitar and set out to build a band from scratch. The process of formation was all but conventional. Many of the musicians had never even met until the first day of recording.

Though the ensemble is multilingual, multicultural, and multi-generational, we all feel connected as musicians and people. And in combining our different accents I feel that there is a strangely common and poignant sound, one that can reach and relate to listeners around the world. Michael League

By the end of the week-long session in upstate New York’s legendary Dreamland Studios, the band felt abnormally cohesive. “Unity was paramount in the formation of this group,” observed League. “Though the ensemble is multilingual, multicultural, and multi-generational, we all feel connected as musicians and people. And in combining our different accents I feel that there is a strangely common and poignant sound, one that can reach and relate to listeners around the world.”

Workshopping the sound for some time on his own, League assures us it all came down to finding the right people. “Each person has their own personality. But I felt from the very beginning that the combination would be something special,” he says. “While it’s already been so much easier than the ten year build up that Snarky Puppy had before being recognized, the process of starting an independent original music ensemble from sctatch is never easy. ”

But with a simple mission in mind for Bokanté, League says the primary focus is simple— to make good music.

Bokanté’s members have achieved great success in their own individual paths (with Paul Simon, Sting, Snarky Puppy, Yo-Yo Ma, etc.) and each musician’s personality shines through in songs that speak to the challenges and strengths of the complex socio-political environment in which we live. As a lyricist Tirolien paints beautiful imagery and tells stories that tackle issues head on. Exploring the reality of this very important – and potentially dangerous – moment in time, whilst still celebrating who we are and what we have in spite of everything.

On the album What Heat, Bokanté have worked with Jules Buckley and the Metropole Orkest. Band member Michael League first worked with the orchestra on the Snarky Puppy album Sylva. “This is the first album we’ve made together since Sylva, and I believe it to be every bit as adventurous. The Metropole is a rarity in that it has the versatility and skill set to play across a wide variety of modern music styles with deep understanding. It opens up possibilities as an arranger that would not be available with other orchestras. Jules and I did our best to take full advantage of those possibilities in every way we could.”

Further reading

Real World Records signs Bokanté for new album with Metropole Orkest & Jules Buckley

Real World Records signs Bokanté, a US based band rich in the sound of delta and desert, led by Sna...

Behind the scenes with Bokanté in new video for ‘Fanm’

Featuring scenes from the recording sessions with the Metropole Orkest and Jules Buckley

And The Beat Goes On: A profile of Remmy Ongala

Remmy Ongala was Tanzania's most famous musician and originator of the bongo beat.

Track of the Day: ‘In The Sun’ by Joseph Arthur

A look back on Arthur's most popular song, which featured on 2000's Come To Where I'm From.