Elikeh is one of those bands that seems improbable: an Afropop band with three members from West Africa (Togo, Nigeria, Benin) and four from the U.S., heavily influenced by Bob Marley as well as many African artists, centered in Washington D.C. What is even more improbable is that they actually make it all work as well as they do. Between 2 Worlds, Elikeh’s third album, brings all their disparate influences together in a danceable, croonable, lovable collection. It kicks off with the loping “No Vision”, a track that splits the difference between just about everything they do. While the band grooves along in 12/8 time, singer Serge Massama Dogo lectures a certain “Mr. President”: “You lead as you are told / You do as you are told / The train of history is leaving without you.” It seems to be directed at Togo’s president Faure Gnassingbé, the newest representative of a dictatorship that has lasted almost 40 decades ... but it really doesn’t matter, as the message is universal, especially when Frank Martins unveils his lovely guitar solo.
As a band, Elikeh is quite flexible. The bubbling Afrobeat “Know Who You Are” scoots along on its funky organ groove, punctuated by staccato hits from the horn section. “Eh wee” follows a similar template, but with more of a hybridized sound, sounding (to my ears) like a very Parisian take on Afrobeat. “Let Them Talk” is a hot remake of a song by Geraldo Pino, a pioneering singer from Sierra Leone who helped to influence Fela Kuti himself.
Elikeh is flexible enough to welcome in some canny guests. On “Nye’n Mind Na Wo” the co-lead vocal is provided by jam-band mainstay John Kadlecik, with an additional kora overlay by Mamadou Cherif Soumano. This track, nice as it is, is blown out of the water by Vieux Farka Toure’s guest guitar stompage on “Alonye”, spraying Malian blues notes all over the universe. See, THAT is how it is done.
Unfortunately, Dogo’s approach does not always match his subjects. “Foot Soldier” is a cunning little African reggae jam with a nice swingy horn line, but it has about as much edge as a bowling ball, and makes almost no impact whatsoever. Closer “Nye Dji,” a gentle folksong, ends things with a whimper instead of a bang, although it probably hits harder for those who speak Mina. Similarly, “Fly to the Sky” just kind of sits there on the record, not lovely enough to justify its passive rhythm. Elikeh clearly has enough ability and talent to really make the difference it clearly wants to make. But this will never happen until the group gets a bit more urgent ... or at least dig a little deeper. Wanna change the world – or bridge the gap between two worlds? Gotta draw some blood.