Yossi Fine Presents
a Collaboration with Prince Nana Dadzie,
Soma Iddrisu, Michael Avgil and Moussa Dembele
Fine Explores New Frontiers With an Acoustic Album
Focused on the Traditional Sounds of Ghana
Afreeka will be released by Avila Street Records on November 8, 2016
Yossi Fine’s inimitable technique on electric bass has led to gigs with an impressive array of jazz, funk, rock, hip-hop and world music artists, including Ruben Blades, Lou Reed, Naughty by Nature, Vieux Farka Touré, Me’Shell N’Degeocello and David Bowie. After discovering the sounds of Africa, he created Ex-Centric Sound System, a group that played African music with funk and dub-reggae effects. Fine continues exploring those sounds on Afreeka, an acoustic album focused on West African sounds.
“I always spelled Africa with the word ‘free’ inside of it,” Fine explains. “It seems appropriate. The continent has so much music and African musicians are open to all the possibilities within it. They’re not bound by tradition, so Afreeka follows their example to put a new twist on old sounds.”
Most of Afreeka was recorded live, half in Fine’s Tel Aviv studio and half in Ghana, at the homes of kora player Soma Iddrisu and co-producer Prince Nana Dadzie, from Ex-Centric Sound System. Fine went to Ghana with a Zoom recorder and a small video camera, to capture the music in its natural habitat. “Soma can’t sing unless he’s playing the kora,” Fine says, “so the arrangements were done on the fly. Soma would play a song for us, then we’d all play it together. It’s honest music, with all the rough edges of a live performance.”
Fine had Iddrisu play his kora through a small guitar amp, to give the acoustic sound an immediate energy. “Five minutes after I met Soma, we recorded ‘Yambibe,’” Fine says. “Prince Nana plays percussion on a conga-like drum he built himself; everybody claps and sings along.” Iddrisu’s kora lays down a galloping rhythm accented by sparkling, single note runs and his spirited vocals. Fine’s harmonic bass line and a funky drum loop give the track an extra boost. “I added the bass and drum parts the same night we made the live recording,” Fine says.
Kora player and singer Moussa Dembele joins Iddrisu and Dadzie on the title track. Fine’s bass plays a funk heavy rhythm over a drum track he created. Iddrisu and Dadzie trade short, sharp kora solos and intertwining vocal lines to goose the song into overdrive. The ambient sounds in the background are the ocean waves the recorder picked up during the session. “Prooblem” is a slow, hypnotic song featuring Dadzie’s percussion, the heartbeat of Fine’s bass and Iddrisu’s kora and singing. The lyric is an impressionistic collage delivered in Africanized English. “Soma’s patois is a unique blend of English and Ghanaian dialect,” Fine says. “It’s very African, with its own rhythm.”
After setting up in Fine’s Tel Aviv studio, the group recorded “Circalera” and “Silent Killa” with Michael Avgil, the drummer from Ex-Centric Sound System. Both were done in a single take. “Circalera” features Iddrisu’s thrumming kora and high, piercing vocals by Kassum, a flute player from Burkina Faso. “This style is not like anything you’ve heard before,” Fine says. “Young musicians from Burkina Faso are merging their style with Ghanaian music to make something that sounds bluesy, but very African.” Avgil’s discreet snare, Fine’s sinuous bass and Iddrisu’s restrained, echo-drenched vocal gives “Silent Killa” a hushed, late night feel. Gentle showers of rippling notes from Iddrisu’s kora add to the song’s hypnotic atmosphere.
“Most of the African records you hear are made in studios and sound polished,” Fine says. “I fell in love with African music listening to field recordings. Along with the music, I heard chickens, babies, running water, all the ambience of the environment. That’s why part of the album was done on location. I wanted it to sound the way music is really made.”
Yossi Fine was born in Paris, France. When he was four, Fine’s father propped him up in a chair so he could hold a small Spanish guitar. “He showed me the basic chords and I took to it,” Fine says. “At 16, after listening to Larry Graham and Parliament/ Funkadelic, I picked up the bass. I didn’t care about genre. I played funk, jazz, rock, whatever turned me on.”
After a successful career as a session player in Israel, Fine moved to New York City, continuing to work as a sideman with a diverse array of musicians. He was nominated for a Best Jazz Instrumental Grammy for his composition “Always Know” from Stanley Jordan’s Cornucopia album.
Fine began exploring the sounds of West Africa in the ‘90s. With the help of Prince Nana Dadzie, he created Ex-Centric Sound System. The band made five innovative albums including Electric Voodooland (2000) and West Nile Funk (2004). His production work with Ex-Centric led to gigs producing tracks for Vieux Farka Touré, Naughty By Nature, Hassan Hakmoun, Ofra Haza and Hamsa Lila. On Afreeka, he returns to the African sounds he explored with Ex-Centric, giving the music a traditional twist. “I went back to acoustic bass because it was time for a new challenge,” Fine says. “There are still so many things I want to discover. Some people stick with one thing forever, but I have too much music in me to do that.”