King Ayisoba/Zea/Ayuune Suley/Dean McPhee @ Delius Arts & Cultural Centre, Bradford

Posted by vibrations on 26-01-16

Shipley electric guitarist Dean McPhee continues his journey away from compositions that rely mainly on tonal, harmonic and structural formalities as he reaches towards something a bit more, well, transcendental. Although based on existing tunes, a good proportion of what he plays tonight seems extended or improvised, the looser structures opening possibilities for further explorations later. There’s never been anything remotely showy or extravagant about what McPhee does, but there’s a quiet, simmering boldness about his music just now that bodes well for the future

Ghanaian Ayuune Suley plays a kologo, a two string bouzouki-like instrument with a hollowed out gourd as a sound box. It’s played with a hard plectrum that supplements the firm strumming with percussive hits on the gourd to provide a rhythmic accompaniment. However, any technical limitations in the construction of the instrument are compensated for by the mesmeric repetitions of the music, intertwined with Suley’s gruffly melodic voice. If this is what passes for pop music in Ghana (and apparently it does) I’m in.

Sandwiched between the two Ghanaian’s is Zea, the solo persona of Dutchman Arnold De Boor’s when he’s on holiday from his usual gig as one quarter of art punk legends The Ex. Although the technology is different (electric guitar and sampler), De Boor’s songs point up a similarly intertwined relationship between voice and music, only this time the simplicity and repetition come from the mathematical precision of intricate but never abstract arrangements. In fact, via a completely different route, De Boor’s songs are as infused with the same kind of humanity, warmth and humour as Suley’s. If only musicians like De Boor were considered pop music in Europe.

King Ayisoba hails from Ghana too and also relies on just the kologo and his voice. But while his music clearly comes from the same cultural tradition as Suley’s, the songs have a rawer edge and seem less bound by structures. Ayisoba has a range of voices at his disposal, each with a distinct tone and timbre so that it often seems like the songs feature multiple voices involved in some kind of dialogue around a particular theme. As he sings mostly in Frafra and Twi, with the occasional foray into English, it’s difficult to determine what those themes are (although ‘Wicked Leaders’ is sung in English and, as the title indicates, marks out a clear political and social message), but his between song banter clearly shows an artist concerned mainly with love and tolerance. The music itself is infectious and has no trouble encouraging a sizable proportion of the audience to dance, although quite what Ayisoba’s usual audiences would make of the modified indie shape throwing is anyone’s guess.

Steve Walsh




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