By Jeremy Ray Jewell
Falle Nioke has developed right into a form of cultural ambassador. Within the English coastal city of Margate, Kent, he has been praised for his performances of unique and conventional compositions on West African devices.
Once I spoke to Falle Nioke, I requested if he considers himself to be a people musician. I needed him to say he was a West African griot, a bluesman from the previous. “No,” he replied, “I contemplate myself to be a singer.”
Truthful sufficient. However I don’t assume that’s all he’s. He has developed right into a form of cultural ambassador. Within the English coastal city of Margate, Kent, Nioke has been praised for his unique and conventional compositions on West African devices.“I play the gongoma, the bolon, cassi, guitar, doundoun, and djembe,” he mentioned. “Any instrument I maintain I’ll make a groove on it and sing alongside!” My thoughts instantly thinks of the diddley bow and the banjo, North American descendants of West African strings, that are admired for each their simplicity and flexibility. Immigrating to a city with a vibrant Home scene, the Guinean musician drew on his mastery of African devices, adapting their venerable sounds to the tastes within the UK, dovetailing the previous with an digital dance style whose roots are in Black Chicago.
Nioke’s versatility is linguistic as nicely. Singing in a wide range of native languages, he sees his position as serving as a bridge to the African diaspora and past: “to point out them love and inform them about Africa, communicate their language to allow them to hear it even when they don’t understand it’s their ancestors’ language. Perhaps they’ll really feel it.” Nioke’s capability to talk to so many stems, not less than partially, from his childhood in a army camp. Rising up there offered him with the advantages of a safe setting in addition to publicity to troopers from all of the 32 totally different tribes of Guinea and their totally different cultures. Sarcastically, provided that the musician comes from a rustic marred by ethnic conflicts and a corrupt army, Nioke makes use of his expertise dwelling amid an ethnically numerous military camp to counteract divisions. He hopes to heal these close to and much: “Individuals who haven’t been dwelling to their African nation for a very long time shall be reminded of dwelling. It’s emotional. Some folks can’t go dwelling.”
Nioke’s first two releases, “Salia” and “Taimedy” had been produced by Johan Hugo. Hugo, initially from Sweden, now resides in Margate, the place he and the performer met. Together with Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya, Hugo kinds a part of The Very Greatest, a bunch which has collaborated with the likes of Vampire Weekend and M.I.A., singing in Chewa, a Bantu language. Nioke defined that “Salia” is an previous West African proverb: “It’s about womanhood. It’s generally sung at weddings or if a girl has a child. I at all times cherished singing that tune and I met Hugo in Margate and we made this contemporary model of it.” Conventional variations might be discovered right here and right here. Nioke and Hugo’s ‘trendy’ model is especially putting due to the way it evokes a way of solitude and distance by means of the digital approximations of the doundoun and djembe rhythms. A choral background is synthetically approximated as nicely. Nioke appears to be singing throughout digital and bodily oceans. The brand new musical implements are promising, however the tune’s feeling is unmistakably nostalgic and deeply private. His second Hugo collaboration comes off as extra of an anthem. “Taimedy,” means ‘woman’ in Susu, a language spoken within the coastal area round Guinea’s capital, Conakry. About this unique composition, Nioke notes that he “made it up jamming on the harbour arm and we laid it down in Johan’s studio in Margate across the identical time.” It’s a cautionary story directed to his compatriots again dwelling: “It’s a warning to women to not promote themselves to assist their households.” That is my favourite Nioke launch to date, an upbeat banger that demonstrates his spectacular vocal breadth.
Nioke’s most up-to-date launch and first EP is Youkounkoun, produced by one other Margate resident, James Greenwood (a.ok.a. Ghost Tradition). The album (launched by PRAH Recordings) takes its title from Nioke’s village close to the Senegalese border, dwelling to the Wamey/Konyagi/Coniagui folks. The neighborhood’s language is beneath risk: it’s spoken at this time by solely round 30,000 folks. The EP’s two beforehand launched tracks, “Barké” (in Susu, Malinke, and Fulani) and “Loneliness” (in Malinke and Coniagui) make dynamic use of the native Guinean languages Noike realized as a baby. They’re additionally expressions of his dedication to the endangered language of ancestors. Nonetheless, whereas Coniagui could also be a language in decline, the affect of Susu and Fulani are spreading, to the purpose of dominating different indigenous languages. Certainly, Coniagui is endangered by the growth of Pulaar and Wolof, together with the rising energy of French and English. Nioke isn’t thinking about adjudicating amongst these tongues; he holds them in equal veneration. If we are able to “really feel” a language in decline talk to us, then there’s hope. The political level of Nioke’s method is obvious: a musical repertoire that instructions equal respect for all languages strives for what folklorist Alan Lomax termed “cultural fairness.”
“Barké,” that means ‘blessing,’ implores us to respect and assist our dad and mom, to hunt their blessing in our endeavors. The lyrics are direct: “My mom mentioned, ‘My son, wherever you go on this planet, with out your dad and mom’ blessing you can not succeed. Cash can not purchase you a blessing; it’s only by serving to your dad and mom which you can get a blessing.” We all know this carries particular resonance for Nioke, given his relationship together with his African dwelling: “One among my pals instructed me he couldn’t perceive why he was struggling, why he couldn’t achieve enterprise and why no alternatives had been coming his manner. There was an previous man listening to us speaking who requested, ‘Do you could have dad and mom?’ My good friend mentioned that he did. The person mentioned to go and go to them and while you see them working you will need to assist them. Give them a hand and when you try this you’re going to get a blessing. That’s the secret of this life.”
“Loneliness” laments the lack of a cherished one. Initially, in Malinke, the singer cries: “I haven’t seen you. So many months I haven’t seen you. My love, the place are you? The place are you hiding? I need to see you.” Then there’s a chorus in Coniagui: “Day and evening I consider you. If I don’t see you I can’t sleep.” So, these are the translations. However can we “really feel” the that means of the phrases, as Nioke suggests? I imagine that we are able to, if solely by means of Nioke’s singing. Whereas the digital accompaniment helps, it’s only a bit of the puzzle. Ghost Tradition, an achieved and acclaimed producer in his personal proper, is billed by report label Moshi Moshi as being “impressed equally by Arthur Russell and Elliot Smith as a lot as LFO or Aphex Twin.” The sentimentality and experimental mixtures that Ghost Tradition cultivated in his earlier work serves as an efficient platform for Nioke’s use of the up to date vernacular. Not like the productions of Hugo, Ghost Tradition’s remedy doesn’t seek for echoes of Africa; the objective is to introduce Nioke to at this time’s younger European audiences. Nioke embraces the musical flexibility: “It means music has no guidelines or boundaries and we’re free to make sound and produce our concepts collectively nonetheless we really feel within the second.” And what worth does he discover in multicultural collaboration? “It’s liberating for black and white folks right here to shake off the narrative they’ve been given by the media in regards to the roles of black and white folks,” Nioke defined.
Not too long ago, African music has been taking the impartial and standard music world within the “world north” by storm. There’s the expansion of Superior Tapes from Africa from a Brooklyn-based weblog to a report label that releases under-exposed African artists. Then there are UK collaborations resembling The Very Greatest and Africa Categorical, Malian singer Salif Keita that includes British rapper Roots Manuva, the Congolese/New England pastiche of Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”, and Janet Jackson and Daddy Yankee’s Afrobeat-influenced “Made For Now”, simply to call a number of. In 2018 Beyoncé introduced a rendition of Nigerian Fela Kuti’s “Zombie” to Coachella, whereas in a extra speedy cross-continental change we’ve additionally witnessed Rihanna, Ciara and Infantile Gambino all performing the gwara gwara, a South African dance popularized solely inside the final 5 years. Within the midst of this fad for modernizing mixes, Nioke stays a traditionalist. He collaborates with digital music producers, however his inventive contribution carries with it an unmistakable sense of a musician who’s enjoying the gongoma on Margate’s harbour wall… or, quite, within the small, Coniagui-speaking city of Youkounkoun.
I revered his self-identification as a mere “singer” however I couldn’t resist the urge to tempt him on this level. “Do you could have any wishes to report any of your music the way in which during which you could have carried out it up to now?” I ask. “Sure, I’d be thinking about doing an acoustic album,” Nioke responded. “Now we have recorded certainly one of my dwell classes on the Tom Thumb Theatre. I’d wish to report with a dwell band utilizing my African devices and European devices.” Frankly, the folklore aficionado in me needed to see him carry out uncooked and easy on the streets, as within the Nowness documentary. However although Nioke respects his progenitors, he’s about bridging divides — not being a purist. Which takes me again to my adolescent discovery of Highlife, the Ghanian and Nigerian style born from the usage of conventional rhythms and melodies on ‘colonial’ devices. I consider Malian Blues, Nigerian reggae, Ethiopian Jazz, and Kenyan Nation. However let’s acknowledge that my dream of discovering African music has turn into frozen in time. It’s a fantasy that the nostalgia and longing in Nioke’s voice woke up however can not fully fulfill. The previous has vanished: as Nioke defined: “Perhaps they’ll really feel it… Some folks can’t go dwelling.”
Jeremy Ray Jewell hails from Jacksonville, Florida. He has an MA in Historical past of Concepts from Birkbeck School, College of London, and a BA in Philosophy from the College of Massachusetts Boston. His web site is www.jeremyrayjewell.com.