What Heat

Bokanté + Metropole Orkest (Conducted by Jules Buckley)

Released 28 September 2018

  1. All the Way Home
  2. Fanm (The Woman)
  3. Lé An Gadé-w En Zyé (When I Look in Your Eyes)
  4. Réparasyons (Reparations)
  5. Bòd Lanmé Pa Lwen (The Beach is Not Far)
  6. Don’t Do It
  7. Chambre à Échos (Echo Chamber)
  8. Maison En Feu (House on Fire)

Bokanté + Metropole Orkest (Conducted by Jules Buckley)

Liner notes

What Heat.

This heat: Bokanté and the Metropole Orkest, together. Two internationally acclaimed outfits made up of players at the top of their games. Music doesn’t get any hotter, or more accomplished, than this.

Bokanté: the fresh new super group founded by musician and composer Michael League, he of Grammy-winning, Texan-bred, New York-based instrumental jazz collective, Snarky Puppy. A super group of players from five countries and four continents, different genders, races and generations working in harmony, celebrating individuality. A band whose members are united in the belief that music should be a voice for the voiceless, a force for change against a rising tide of exclusion and indifference in a world that is, well, reaching boiling point.

The Metropole Orkest: that multiple Grammy-winning hybrid ensemble, part jazz big band, part symphony orchestra, helmed by feted English conductor, composerand musician, Jules Buckley, and based in the Netherlands. A specialist in all styles, with a deep understanding of music, the Metropole is at ease playing jazz and pop, traditional music and film scores and has collaborated with legends from Ella Fitzgerald to Gregory Porter and of course, Snarky Puppy, along with a veritable constellation of rising stars.

Teamed with an outfit like Bokanté —which means ‘exchange’ in Guadeloupian Creole, the language of vocalist Malika Tirolien’s childhood island— the possibilities seemed endless.

The Metropole Orkest. Photo credit: Stella K.

“My first collaboration with the Metropole was with Snarky Puppy on Sylva, which won a Grammy in 2016 for Best Instrumental Album,” says League, who produced, arranged and co-wrote What Heat, with Buckley co-arranging, adding, changing, enhancing. “What Heat is an acoustic album, and every bit as adventurous. The orchestra is a huge part of the record; we explored sonic landscapes and had so much fun. It was a very creative opportunity.

“I couldn’t imagine doing any sort of orchestral record without Jules,” he continues. “He’s so in tune with the role the orchestra assumes in the context of a collaboration. He’s a true musician, a good friend and he lives in the world of modern music. He gets it.”

Working with Snarky Puppy’s now familiar funk, improv and jazz-based sound was one thing, states Buckley. Conveying the honesty of Bokanté’s music, with its disparate musical influences —music that also reflects the respective personal journeys of co-writers League and Tirolien— and ensuring that the two groups were in harmony, was another.

“Part of Michael’s brilliance as a composer is the way he captures the mosaic feeling of the group,” offers Buckley. “Each member of Bokanté is a virtuoso on their chosen instrument and a musical cog that eventually forms the overall sound. We honed the various elements and chipped away at anything we felt was unnecessary, and re-wrote when we felt we’d missed the target, to make the record feel even more cohesive. There’s such a beautiful imagining of these compositions with an absolute non compromise on the groove and feel.”

Listen to What Heat, to its earthy, almost rooted sound (think low brass, big strings, spiced up woodwinds), to the Creole and French-sung songs given life and magic by Malika Tirolien’s astounding voice, and it’s hard to believe that Bokanté was only founded just over a year ago, releasing a debut album, Strange Circles, that hinted at magnificent things to come. What Heat fulfills that promise, and then some.

“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,” says League, here playing everything from oud, Minimoog and fretless acoustic bass to bendir, riq and daf frame drum; he’s spent time studying Turkish percussion in Istanbul, and it shows. “A big part of the blues belongs to an acoustic idiom; I wanted this band to pursue how groove-based and soulful it can be.”

Photo credit: York Tillyer.

Joining League are Snarky guitarists Chris McQueen and Bob Lanzetti, and Miami-based pedal steel virtuoso Roosevelt Collier. The group’s three main percussionists include Keita Ogawa— Nagasaki-raised, Rio-trained, a veteran of orchestras including the London Symphony and the group backing superstar cellist, Yo-Yo Ma. There is Jamey Haddad, the percussionist’s percussionist, ex-Berkeley music professor and long time rhythm man for Sting and Paul Simon.

There is André Ferrari, a mohawked Swede whose innovative flourishes— on goat nails, grouse pipe, wooden Japanese bicycle bell— were a trademark of the Swedish folk outfit, Väsen, and whose self-penned ‘Shapons Vindaloo’ is the first track Snarky Puppy ever recorded. There is special guest Weedie Braimah, a Ghanaian djembe master whose skills stretch back for generations.

And then, of course, there is Malika Tirolien, the Montreal-based Guadeloupian vocalist with the huge honeyed voice. “Malika’s voice covers several frequency bands,” says Buckley, “so the challenge on What Heat was to make sure there was enough space for all the different elements —winds, strings, brass, percussion, guitars, drums, more drums— to thrive during the recording. I think Mike’s producing achieved that task brilliantly.”

Trained in classical piano and jazz, Tirolien was fronting a hip hop-leaning group called Groundfood that supported Snarky Puppy in Quebec and duly blew League and Co away. “The whole band were like, ’Who the **** is that?’” grins League. “She was one of our first guests on the [2014] Snarky Puppy record Family Dinner Volume 1; she sang in Creole and everybody loved how it sounded. When I started writing music for Bokanté I was thinking of singers and she was the only one I thought would work. Plus we’d known each other for five years by then and had become like family.”

“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. A big part of the blues belongs to an acoustic idiom; I wanted this band to pursue how groove-based and soulful it can be.” Michael League

The French-based Creole language has a percussive flow; Tirolien’s dialect is particular to Guadeloupe and not dissimilar to the neighbouring Caribbean island of Martinique: “It’s a very funky language to listen to. Of course the whole island speaks French, their colonial language, but Creole is really a Guadeloupe thing so we thought it was more genuine for her to be expressing herself in this language— she was happy about that.”

Tirolien 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, what is the statement?— until you’ve actually been enjoying the sound. Then, seeing us as a group of people from five countries and four continents, each one with their own story and upbringing… all of that co-existing to create a sound that is harmonious and groovy and joyful is, in itself, a message.”

A smile. “Then they read the lyrics and go, ‘Oh. She’s talking about some heavy stuff.’ ”

Tirolien and League had started Bokanté by co-writing remotely, their creative exchanges fleshing out the ideas on the latter’s iPhone: “I would send Malika the music and a lyrical concept that was socially conscious, to do with individual and social struggles or more specifically about strife and success, racism and apathy and the refugee crisis; hopes for peace and unity. She would write the lyrics and melody, demo the song and send it back.”

This time around, for What Heat, the two came together to write, carving out space for a creative retreat in Spain. “There’s no replacement for spending time together onstage and offstage. That made a big difference to us, actually being there together and looking at that first record and building upon what works. I wrote most of these songs on oud, which I hear as a blues instrument. It has no frets so is it comes across like a slide guitar, in a way.

“Malika is an observer of life,” he says. “She has such a talent for writing these lyrics with images that tell stories, that take interesting perspectives without beating you over the head with their message.”

But the message delivered by Bokanté and the Metropole Orkest, by these two determinedly woke and musically gifted outfits, is laced throughout What Heat— and it is urgent. Injustice is raging all around. Look. Notice. Wake up.

Dance, too; What Heat makes you want to dance.

“If it makes you want to change something,” says League, “then that’s a bonus.”

Words by Jane Cornwell

Michael League and Malika Tirolien from Bokanté with conductor Jules Buckley. Photo credit: NSJ Reinout Bos

Reviews

  • Buckley’s orchestrations add eastern-tinged atmosphere that sometimes echoes the dramatic thud of Led Zeppelin’s 'Kashmir'. They do, however, leave lots of space for the soloists. Malika Tirolien sings with passion and power and, propelled by an array of African percussion, on the best tracks the music attains a hypnotic grandeur. ★★★★ The Times (UK)
  • The feeling of drama cannot be ignored and the sheer expanse of sound is wonderful, each note is perfectly executed, each exhale is made with seeming ease and beauty... This is stunning beyond expectation and will have you pausing for breath on many occasion. Amazing. Louder Than War (UK)
  • Guadaloupe-born singer Malika Tirolien's vocals are supple, capable of both delicacy and force, and with hip-hop inflections … The opener All the Way Home booms cavernously; Réparasyons has swaying Turkish strings; and Don’t Do It comes spiced with a bank of saxes. The Observer
  • What Heat is white-hot: a cinematically musical masterpiece that in size, scope and style is as visionary and kaleidoscopic as the cascading soundscapes created by Philip Glass for his Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, Naqoyatsi trilogy ★★★★★ the Australian
  • Fierce rhythmic clarity and radiant presence. The Wire
  • What Heat is an album that could just as easily be a masterpiece of socially relevant modern dance as a sophomore record. PopMatters (USA)
  • An epic union of myriad global influences Jazzwise
  • The feeling of drama cannot be ignored and the sheer expanse of sound is wonderful, each note is perfectly executed, each exhale is made with seeming ease and beauty ...This is stunning beyond expectation and will have you pausing for breath on many occasion. Amazing. Louder than War (UK)
  • A wondrous hybrid drama Monolith Cocktail
  • Real, emotionally charged creativity at full tilt... If Duke Ellington, Angelique Kidjo, Weather Report and Peter Gabriel got together, I doubt whether they could have improved on 'What Heat' one iota. Afropop Worldwide (USA)

Credits

Personnel

Bokanté

Malika Tirolien vocals; Michael League oud, cümbüs, fretless acoustic bass, electric bass, Minimoog, 12-string acoustic guitar, daf, sumbati, dayera, bendir, riq, tambourine, hand claps, vocals; Bob Lanzetti 6-string acoustic guitar, 12-string acoustic guitar, baritone acoustic guitar, vocals; Chris McQueen 6-string acoustic guitar, baritone acoustic guitar, vocals; Roosevelt Collier dobro, vocals; André Ferrari concert bass drum, bass drum, frame drum, dayera, goat nails, cymbals, grouse pipe, matchbox, hand claps, tamborim, katak bells, pandeiro, antique chains, crotals, wooden Japanese bicycle bell, shekere piccolino; Jamey Haddad hadjini, hadjira, djembe, darbuka, shaker, riq, ocean drum, daf, frame drum, hand claps; Keita Ogawa mushroom drum, ceramic vase, talking drum, bendir, daf, cowbells, the thing, shakers, bells, pandeiro, bass pandeiro, hand claps; Weedie Braimah djembe, vocals.

 

Metropole Orkest, Conducted by Jules Buckley

1st violin Arlia de Ruiter, Vera Laporeva, Sarah Koch, Denis Koenders, Pauline Terlouw, David Peijnenborgh, Christina Knoll, Casper Donker; 2nd violin Herman van Haaren, Wim Kok, Jasper van Rosmalen, Ruben Margarita, Robert Baba, Ewa Zbyszynska, Merel Jonker; viola Norman Jansen, Mieke Honingh, Julia Jowett, Iris Schut, Isabella Petersen/Wouter Huizinga; cello Emile Visser, Maarten Jansen, Annie Tangberg, Jascha Albracht; double bass Erik Winkelmann, Arend Liefkes, Tjerk de Vos; flute Mariël van den Bos / Janneke Groesz, Janine Abbas; saxophone/clarinet Marc Scholten, Paul van der Feen / David Kweksilber, Leo Janssen, Sjoerd Dijkhuizen, Max Boeree / Nils van Haften; horn Pieter Hunfeld, Felix Peijnenborgh, Lies Molenaar / René Pagen; tromboneJan Oosting, Martijn Sohier, Jan Bastiani; bass trombone Martin van den Berg; orchestral percussionEddy Koopman, Murk Jiskoot.

 

Produced by Michael League.

Engineered by Nic Hard at Dreamland Recording in West Hurley, New York, and Atlantic Sound Studios in Brooklyn, New York. Electric bass engineered by Diko Shoturma at Atlantic Sound Studios in Brooklyn, New York. Acoustic bass engineered by Onür Ozçelik at Kalan Studios in Istanbul, Turkey. Mixed by Nic Hard and Michael League at Atlantic Sound Studios in Brooklyn, New York. Mix assisted by Denis Rens and Ken Helmlinger. Mastered by Dave McNair in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Orchestra arranged and orchestrated by Michael League and Jules Buckley. ‘Réparasyons’, ‘Don’t Do It’, and ‘Chambre à Échos’ arranged and orchestrated by Michael League and Stefan Behrisch. Orchestra conducted by Jules Buckley. Orchestra artistic production by Robert Soomer. Metropole Orkest recorded by Paul Pouwer and Nic Hard at Muziekcentrum van de Omroep, Studio 5, in Hilversum, the Netherlands on 6-8 January 2018.

A Real World Design by Marc Bessant.

 

Endorsements

Malika Tirolien uses TC Helicon’s Voice Live Touch. Michael League plays Markbass, Supro, Jim Dunlop/MXR, Moog, F Bass, Fodera, Kala, Godin, Taylor, Earthquaker Labs, Cooperman, Sala Muzik, Emin, Wes Lambe, TC Helicon, and Audio-Technica. Bob Lanzetti plays Fodera, Supro, Jim Dunlop/MXR, Source Audio, Lindy Fralin pickups, D’Addario, Planet Waves, TWA, and Audio-Technica. Chris McQueen plays Supro, Moollon, Heritage, Collings, Jim Dunlop/MXR, Moog, Lollar, Telonics, Temple Audio, Option Knobs, and Audio-Technica. André Ferrari plays DEM Sticks. Jamey Haddad plays Cooperman, Vic Firth, DEM Sticks, Remo, Yamaha, Sabian, and Gon Bops. Keita Ogawa plays Latin Percussion, Evans, Vic Firth, Sabian, Crescent, DEM Sticks, Cooperman, and Canopus.

 

Thank Yous

Michael League: Special thanks to Tarik Aslan, Onur Özçelik, Erdem Erol, Osama Badawe, Farhad Seyda, Ege Genç, Veysel Sala, Ramazan Calay, the people of Els Prats De Rei and Istanbul (where most of this album was composed), everyone in and working for the Metropole Orkest, my brother Jules, Peter and the team at Real World, Mike Chadwick, Jamie, Amelie Marchier, and the GroundUP posse, Diko Shoturma at Atlantic Sound Studios and the good people at Two Toms, and everyone else who brought this project from concept to completion.

Jules Buckley: Big thanks to everyone in Bokanté for inspiring us, the Metropole Orkest for your great playing as always, Michael for yet another beautiful trip, Mike Chadwick, Jan Geert Vierkant, Stefan Behrisch, Paul Pouwer, Dirk Overeem, Nic Hard, Embert-Jan, Sophie, Jolien, Jamie Margulies and the team at GroundUP, thanks to Croz, Michelle, and Becca for the lovely hang whilst mixing, Phil Knights for your solid work and Real World for supporting us in this beautiful endeavor.

Further Listening

  • République Amazone

    Les Amazones d’Afrique

    Released 10 March 2017

    Les Amazones d'Afrique are an all-female collective of west African musicians campaigning for gender equality. They have been described as a supergroup, and the characterisation seems apt. Angélique Kidjo, Kandia Kouyaté, Mamani Keita, Mariam Doumbia, Mariam Koné, Massan Coulibaly, Mouneissa Tandina, Nneka, Pamela Badjogo and Rokia Koné hold a strong pedigree.
  • Neguinha Te Amo

    Daúde

    Released 13 October 2003

    While many of her peers have been abandoning Brazilian music to undertake rock, hip-hop, techno and dance, Daúde takes the opposite tack. She looks to see how these forms can be brought back to enhance Brazilian music, not to replace it. The mix is all her own and the style she has created is unique.

Further reading

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The track features on the brand new EP of the same name, out now digitally.

Dub Colossus announce new remix EP, A Spy In The House of Dub

Marking 10 years since the first release by Dub Colossus, the new EP is released later this month.

Real World Sessions: Totó la Momposina, 20 August 1991

A look back on The Wood Room session with producer Phil Ramone and mix engineer Richard Blair.

New Dawn: Track by Track

Producer Søren Kjær Jensen looks at the songs on renowned Somalian ensemble Waaberi's 1997 album.