03/07/2020Niger's Alhousseini Anivolla and Ethiopia's Girum Mezmur Join Forces on Hypnotic Pan-African Album Project

Afropentatonism... say it out loud, read it again to make sure you got all the letters right and then just let it seep in and gently take effect. What might be mistaken for a cult or a new brand of metal music rooted in African tradition turns out to be neither nor. Instead, "Afropentatonism" references the pentatonic scale, which many claim to be the world's oldest scale. With its five notes per octave the pentatonic scale dates all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia around 3000 BC and then spread across the globe, becoming the foundation for many a musical style, e.g. blues, jazz, country, rock music, but also "indispensable for the development of African music".

Which brings us to Alhousseini Anivolla – a desert blues guitar player and composer from the West African country of the Niger – and Girum Mezmur – an ethio jazz guitarist from the East African country of Ethiopia – who first met at a festival in 2005, both well-established musicians at the time. Alhousseini had been performing as part of Tinariwen and later went on to further his acclaim with his band Etran Finatawa and his trio Anewal. Girum for his part has been a celebrated musician and producer on the Addis Ababa live music scene for the past decades, having worked with the likes of Ethiopian icon Mahmoud Ahmed, Angélique Kidjo and Ali Keita.

Although their two countries are thousands of kilometres apart and artistic exchange remains hindered by political instability and terrorism, they share a rich musical tradition to go with a forward-thinking generation of artists and cultural ambassadors, combining their proud heritage with younger musical genres. On the one side we have the Sahel with its nomadic Tuareg culture and popular acts including the afore-mentioned Tinariwen, Ali Farka Touré, Bombino, Mdou Moctar or Mariem Hassan. On the other we have the Horn of  Africa and the popular Ethiopian jazz scene led by vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke or the legendary keyboardist / taxi driver Hailu Mergia. 

"Afropentatonism" is thus the name of this new collaborative, pan-African project, featuring "repetitive grooves, hypnotic jams and raw guitar sounds, [...] the laid-back [Tamashek] vocals of Alhousseini" as well as an all-star band, i.e. percussionist Misale Legesse, Habtamu Yeshambel on the masinko (Ethiopian violin), Anteneh Teklemariam on the krar (bass-like lyre) and the "78-year-old mandolin legend from Addis", Ayele Mamo. Recorded live during a concert in Nairobi, the eight-track-strong album (six tracks for the 180g vinyl version) boasts mesmerising "extended versions of the original songs", including "a rousing finale"

Releasing today on Berlin-based imprint Piranha Records, "Afropentatonism" is much more than just a dreamy tip of the hat to the mother of all scales. It is a virtuosic and inspiring demonstration of artistic exchange, togetherness and commonality as well as a call to peace and unity. The overall vibe is swinging, meditative, gently moving forward through a multitude of rhythmic patterns, varying motifs and able instrumentation. "We want people in Africa to be proud of their diverse culture and common traditions," Alhousseini and Girum emphasise, but prefer to let their music do the talking. You can stream/buy the full album below or watch the album trailer to get into the mood.

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom