I received Soulsha‘s new CD, Carry It On, on the same day that I received Rachid Taha’s Je Suis Africain on LP. I know it’s difficult to mix up a CD with an LP–I was working off the press releases–but for a while I had mixed the two up. Both albums have African influences, with Rachid Taha singing a cerebral version of French Algerian rock/pop and Soulsha combining Celtic music with Senegalese roots music. I sorted it all out eventually, but then it occurred to me that there’s so much musical richness coming out of Africa these days and anything goes. It reminds me of the late ’80s when everyone start listening to King Sunny Ade and Mick Fleetwood’s The Visitor. It seems kind of silly to talk about the relevance of the African music scene as if it’s coming out of nowhere because it’s always been standing up front, center stage, but 2019 has been unusually productive for these artists.
Soulsha is a group based on the idea that Senegalese mbalax, Scottish step dancing and funk are all moving along at the same basic pace, and that these three genres blend seamlessly. Carry It On is therefore a happy album, and it will fill you with the urge to get up and dance. The genres all blend seamlessly, but at the same time each form takes the lead–one minute you’ll hear bagpipes and fiddles, another you’ll hear a jazz trumpet leading a funky horn section, all backed by percussion that borrows from both Senegal and James Brown. When the elements fly along simultaneously, which happens at least once in each song, it gets quite exciting.
Soulsha was started by two Scotsmen, piper Elias Alexander and pianist Neil Pearlman, who both recognized the inherent “groove” of Scottish music when they were growing up. Alexander then spent some time in New Orleans, which he says “tuned” his ear differently. Soon Alexander and Pearlman started wondering why there was no Scottish funk music, and that connection was made. The Senegalese connection followed when the pair met drummer Lamine Toure, who was based in Boston at the time. Other members soon joined in–bassist Charles Berthoud, trumpeter Jake Galloway, guitarist Conor Hearn, saxophone player Dylan Sherry and drummer Chris Southiere. (Southiere supplies the western beats, which Toure uses the traditional percussion from Senegal.) Carry It On is their debut album.
Carry It On is ultimately very different from Je Suis Africain–the former is more settled in traditions that are blended together, while Taha was very much a singular artist sticking to his own vision. Neither Soulsha nor Rachid Taha sound like another Africa-based group I love, Tinariwen, who blend Saharan folk tradition with Mississippi delta blues. That’s sort of the point–Africa seems to be a hotbed of creativity these days, If you’re looking for something new and exciting in your musical world, this is where you should visit.