Facts up front: This is a collaborative record between Adé Bantu, a Nigerian/German dancehall/rapper who belongs to the Brothers Keepers collective, and Adewale Ayuba, one of the best practitioners of the Nigerian groove form known as “Fuji”. I have to give respect to Piranha, one of my favorite world music labels, for thinking of a way to bring Fuji to the world’s — or maybe just my — attention.
Because I love Fuji. This genre, which is named for Japan’s majestic Mt. Fuji, is wonderful and elastic and beautiful, and there’s a lot of it here to enjoy. It begins in Fela-like Afrobeat, but mixes in more Arabic and Asian influence. Ayuba didn’t invent Fuji, but he’s the new standard-bearer, and he makes it pop, especially with original Africa70 member Oghene Kologbo chiming in on guitar, bass and drums. Tracks like “Oya” and “Mt. Fuji” bubble, sparkle, and bounce — it’s a joyous sort of music.
I just wish that I liked Adé Bantu more. Dancehall and hip-hop are cool, but Bantu’s rapping sounds more European than African or American. By this, I guess I mean that he’s not very good. He’s nice and positive, which is fine, but there’s no edge there at all. I hestitate to say it’s corny, exactly, but I’m not happy about hearing pedestrian raps dropped into the middle of such complex music. Bantu’s idea of a chorus is “Rise up to the occasion / I want to see our brothers and my sisters / Use their full potential.” That, my friends, is just ugly. And the title track is humming right along nicely until his spotlight (featuring lines like “Baby dance to de riddim / Let your hips start de groovin / An your free to de movin / And de drum it be callin”) sorta brings it all down.
The thing is, Bantu is a talented fellow. He and his posse bring a nice dancehall energy to a lot of the tracks, his ears are obviously wide open, and I actually like his singing voice. He’s just been listening to the wrong music, or too many people have told him he’s on the right track, or something. I don’t know. (There are a lot of cooks in this kitchen: Barbara Sobiegalla and Hans Joachim Krall and Ben Abarbanel-Wolff and a bunch of people pop up as songwriters, so maybe it’s their fault after all.) And Bantu is so relentlessly nice and upbeat that I don’t want to criticize him. But damn, those lyrics are weak, and I don’t know if he knows it. So I’m saying it.
This record is good enough in its own way, but I’m not in love with it. What I’m really waiting for is some actual real live Fuji, some Ayuba with no Bantu mixed in. That, I think, will truly take off. I’m also going to try to hunt down some Brothers Keepers stuff, because I think it’s probably better in its own environs. But as it is, this disc is only a pretty good start for further exploration.