In short, Bokanté is a new project, conceived by Snarky Puppy founder Michael League, which brings together the diverse musical traditions of 8 musicians from 4 different continents. The result? Heavy grooves, a head-bop-inducing mix of musical styles, and original music which sounds - and feels - fantastic.
At the core of the Bokanté concept is the idea of connection - musical, personal, intergenerational and international. While the musicians had all, prior to coming together to record Bokanté's debut album, crossed paths in one way or another, they had never as a group worked together. But after the recording session, Michael League had this to say: "We all feel connected as musicians and people...I feel that there is a strangely common and poignant sound, one that can reach and relate to listeners around the world."
Although I never like to pick favourites - especially with a true collective like Bokanté - it's hard to deny the appeal of lead vocalist (and the only Canadian in the group) Malika Tirolien. Born in Guadeloupe, Malika moved to Montreal for university and became part of the Kalmunity Jazz project - which is where she caught my attention. Her performance at our Festival in 2015 was a highlight - she sang, she rapped; her musical talent and stage persona kept the audience engaged and entertained throughout her 75-minute set. No surprise, then, that Snarky Puppy sought her out to sing one track on their Grammy Award winning album Family Dinner - Volume One. Check it out:
But Bokanté truly is a collective. And while it is ultimately Michael League's brainchild, he is just one of an outstanding lineup of musicians, each with an impressive list of credits. Joining Michael (who in Bokanté trades his electric bass for a baritone guitar) are guitarists Chris McQueen and Bob Lanzetti (also from Snarky Puppy), percussion legend Jamey Haddad (Paul Simon, Sting), pedal and lap steel virtuoso Roosevelt Collier (Lee Boys, Karl Denson), and percussionists André Ferrari (Väsen) and Keita Ogawa (Banda Magda, Yo-Yo Ma). As a former teacher used to say, "not bad if you like that incredible musicianship sort of thing."
Bringing together a diverse collection of musicians such as makes up Bokanté can be a tricky exercise. How will each musician's experience and expertise blend with the others'? Based on what I've heard, I would suggest the results are an unqualified success. Although Malika Tirolien sings in Creole and French, language is not a barrier here: her performance is as engaging as ever, the grooves are as deep as one would expect with this collection of musicians, and the music strikes that balance between sounding fresh while at the same time somehow familiar. As with Snarky Puppy, I feel Bokanté's tunes outwardly belie the complexities involved in making them sound good - so music enthusiasts can analyze to their hearts' content...but if you just want to dance, these songs will get you moving.
Not bad, right?
Opening up for Bokanté will be local drum hero - and regular Snarky Puppy member - Larnell Lewis, performing music from his original project simply called the Larnell Lewis Band. I could easily do an entry (or two!) on Larnell's impressive output; but let's have his playing speak for itself: