When The Dust Settles

27/07/2023London's Mandé Jazz Ensemble Balimaya Project Explores The Concept Of Family On Sophomore Album

Remaining both in the UK and in West Africa after recently reviewing the new album of experimental UK dub project African Head Charge "A Trip To Bolgatanga", we now turn to London's Mandé jazz ensemble Balimaya Project. Formed by composer, arranger and djembe player Yahael Camara Onono back in 2019, the group fuses the musical experiences and rhythmic traditions of the diverse West African diasporas and identities with influences from London's contemporary jazz scene. 'Balimaya' in the Maninka language means "the essence of kinship" whereas the Balimaya Project takes this concept to new heights:

"In Mandé society, the ideology of kinship is engrained in the moral fabric of its people. Family ties aren't limited to blood relations. The concept of extended family created by marriage, cousinage, shared history within ethnicities and deeds done for one another is complex but adhered to with great pride. This extended family model is what inspires Balimaya Project's repertoire and mission: to show that even though they were, for the most part, born in inner city London, their roots have not been forgotten and they have been innovative in their approach to reconnecting with traditional Mandé music and culture," the accompanying press release reads. 

In 2021, Balimaya Project released its thrilling debut album "Wolo So", presenting a versatile mix of "driving collective polyrhythms, blazing frontline horns and virtuosic kora stylings" to widespread acclaim. Just last week, the collective returned with its brand-new full-length, further pursuing the idea of brotherhood and connection along with themes such as the death of Camara Ononos older brother, the loss of a child, fatherhood, migration, survival and the ongoing quest for truth. "One thing that's really lining us is that the concept of family and the bonds are getting stronger every time ... It was important to me to go deeper and address not just tradition and culture, but also emotion", Camara Onono says within the context of album number two. 

"When The Dust Settles" brings us ten new tracks, showcasing an even more cohesive timbre and conceptual approach to songwriting, without compromising on the dynamic flow and permeating warmth of the group's meticulous arrangements and bona fide virtuosity. Facing forward without losing sight of their personal and cultural heritage, Balimaya Project presents a musical mix that is unique yet equally accessible, both stirring and soothing, inviting listeners to let go and get carried away. Taking a giant step in terms of musical as well as emotional maturity, the group is on top of their game, owning up to their own vulnerability while revitalising the ties between their diasporic culture and London home.

"This album is dedicated to the deep breath before the plunge, that moment of silence before diving into depths unknown. It is dedicated, not only to the sacrifice that bore fruit, but to the offering that was made in vain. It is an acceptance and a reckoning with pain, regret, joy and hope. We hope that it encourages you to take your own plunge..." Camara Onono details. Joining them on their latest tour de force are reputable guest vocalists Afronaut Zu (Rudimental, Steam Down, Ancestral Futures), Obongjayar and Fassara Sacko (BKO Quintet). You can now stream the full album and watch the companion video to "A Prayer for our Parents" below.

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom