World Music Matters - Electric Vocuhila: the French quartet with taste, and talent, for African rhythms

Electric Vocuhila combine the spirit of free-jazz legend Ornette Coleman with driving urban guitar rhythms like tsapiky from Madagascar or Congolese sebene. They masterfully sew them together on their pulse-raising third album, Palaces.

"I had a long time love for African music and the repetitive motifs used in bebop and free jazz," the band's saxophonist and composer Maxime Bobo told RFI just ahead of the Palaces release party in Paris.

The album is an electrifying patchwork of rhythms like tsapiky, sebene, sungura and benga.

They got into tsapiky after meeting France-based Damily, the king of this fast, electric-guitar led genre which he developed in Tuléar in the 1970s.

"We started to use its grooves and forms," Bobo said. "But doing it our own way, trying to get closer to this kind of 'dancey' feeling and fluidity, but using the saxophone and with the way we interact and compose together."
The saxophonist as a voice
The band went to Madagascar, saw how the professionals did it, and came back inspired.

But their command of other rhythms like Congolese sebene or sungura from Zimbabwe has been garnered "mainly through the internet and YouTube," Bobo admitted. 

Together with the other band members: Boris Rosenfeld (guitar), François Rosenfeld (bass and guitar) Etienne Ziemniak (drums), they weave these rhythms together rather seemlessly.

They are all guitar-led, and yet Bobo plays saxophone.

"I’m much more attracted to these kind of guitar players or singers, the voices in tsapiky, of African styles," he said.

"I connect with this more than with contemporary saxophone players. I guess I’m trying to use the saxophone and to put somewhere between the voice, singing a song, and guitar riffs."
Back to the roots of jazz
Bobo has found inspiration in sax player Ornette Coleman, the father of free jazz. Not so much because of his renowned harmolodics, but his "voice" and the way he let his band members express themselves.

"I loved his music when I heard it in my 20s. His playing is really open with very melodic lines, always rhythmic and warm. It has the feeling of a human voice."

Like many members of the free jazz movement, Coleman looked to the African continents for the roots of jazz.

"He played with the Masters of Joujouka from Morocco. There's one song on the Dancing On Your Head album," Bobo said.

But it was Ed Blackwell, one of the first drummers in Coleman's quartet, who was more connected to Africa and spent more time there. As did Archie Shepp. 

Electric Vocuhila make no claim to ...