Oh man, this is a smoking hot record. If I had heard this before submitting my picks for Best World Music 2012, I would have included it on that list, but the album (released in late October) didn’t cross my desk till early December. That’s a shame, because this record rocks. Like electric guitar? Buy it. Like African music? Buy it. Like bluesy crunch? Buy it. Like uptempo booty-shaking music? Buy it.
Okay, let me back up.
In Trance is the work of an outfit called JuJu, a collaboration between British electric guitar champ Justin Adams (who has released several albums of his own and worked as producer for Tinariwen, among others) and Gambian ritti maestro Juldeh Camara. The ritti is a kind of single-string West African violin, whose expressive range and urgent tone belies its apparent simplicity; the sound will be familiar to aficionados of African music. In Camara’s hands, it becomes a solo component in an unlikely melding of western blues-rock and west African traditional music. Even more unlikely, this melding—which could prove disastrous in so many ways—actually works. Actually it does more than just “work”—it succeeds brilliantly.
The album grabs the listener by the throat from the get-go. Lead track “Nightwalk” stomps from your speakers in a welter of guitar distortion and squealing ritti, and doesn’t let up for the next six and a half minutes. Camara contributes vocals throughout the album, and his husky voice adds much soul to the proceedings. The song erupts with such energy that it seems unlikely the band will sustain it, but they do so with ease.
In fact, long songs are the norm here, as the band establishes groove after groove and then milks them for all they are worth. “Djanfa Moja”, “Mariama Trance” and “Deep Sahara” all top thirteen minutes, with “Deep Sahara” a whisker under fifteen. All of them are high-octane rave-ups, but “Deep Sahara” is a particular standout, with its layers upon layers of psychedelic guitar effects building into a towering confection of headbanging, mind-expanding Afro-groove. Put plainly, this is music unlike anything you’ve heard before.
Not every tune is uptempo, though, and the slower songs are standouts as well. “Waide Nayde” mines a deep blues riff that sounds like it bubbles up from the depths of Adams’s distortion-infused guitar, while Camara wheedles and noodles his mournful ritti above it. Anyone who questions the direct link between African traditional music and American blues need only listen to this in order to hear the connection. Camara sings in Fulani, not English, so the precise meaning of the words is lost on Anglophone ears. It doesn’t matter.
There are only seven tracks here, but with the album clocking in at nearly 70 minutes, this is hardly a criticism. There is no dead weight whatsoever; every song contributes something different in terms of sonic shading or mood.
My pick for 2012 Album of the Year was The Tel Aviv Session by Vieux Farka Toure and Idit Raichel. This record is very nearly as good—in some moods, I think it’s even better—and like the other album, it too is the product of an unlikely cross-continental collaboration. Unlike The Tel Aviv Session‘s intimate introspection, however, In Trance is a raucous explosion of joy that will appeal to fans of rock and roll. Buy it, play it, listen to it, love it.