thu 18/04/2024

Album: Bokanté - History | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Bokanté - History

Album: Bokanté - History

Vocalist Malika Tirolien: multi-talented and astonishingly adaptable

'The grooves are irresistible, but there is always more to discover'

Everyone has their "what-if" moments. But the “Sliding Doors” inflection points in the life of Guadeloupe-born, Montreal-based Malika Tirolien, after which everything that happened afterwards could been very different, are truly extraordinary.

What if the songwriter/composer /singer/pianist/bandleader had chosen to do her university music studies in France (like her close school class-mate, the brilliant drummer Arnaud Dolmen) rather than being quite so determined to be closer to the music that inspired her – hiphop, jazz and soul – in North America? Or…what if she had taken up the job offer to become a permanent member of Cirque du Soleil, having worked for a few months with them as stand-in lead singer? And what if Michael League had not hovered around after a Snarky Puppy soundcheck and heard her and her band Ground Food in the tiny Haitian Club Lambi in Montreal... and been so bowled over that he stayed in touch... and then invited her to be a guest on the popular Snarky album, Family Dinner – Volume One ?

The short answer is that if any of the things above had happened differently, then History, this stunning third album by Bokanté, the band which she and Michael League co-lead, a disc which is clearly their best release to date, would never have happened.

What History shows, above all, is quite how multi-talented and adaptable Tirolien is. She is a singer who is not just good in the lead role and can command and convey a vast emotional range, but all her experience as a backing singer in several contexts, and her deep harmonic knowledge gives her a wonderful awareness of all the other voices, of what a whole vocal section on top form should can and should sound like. Try the stunning a capella opening to “Pa Domi”.

There is so much more: I had been wondering since 2019, and ever since the death of South African singer Dorothy Masuka if there would ever be another vocalist who could deliver her trade-mark cross-beat yelps, screams and squeals with the same rhythmic authority. Try Tirolien’s stunning effects right through the track “Illimine”. I think my wait is over.

Michael League originally assembled a super group of instrumentalists with different heritages, but now they are a real seasoned band has toured and gelled and you can hear that. League mainly plays the Moroccan guembri. As he explains in the album press release: “I've always been a frustrated drummer and the guembri is an instrument that feels like you're playing bass, drums and melody at the same time.” The opening of the title track shows off that deep thrum supporting Tirolien’s voice, before moving onwards into a section reminiscent of Donald Fagen’s “New Frontier” from Nightfly. There are other sudden and wonderful transitions and odd spectral presences. Like the ghost of AC/DC's "Shot Down in Flames" strangely and briefly hovering over some moments of "Tandé"

I met Tirolien recently in Montreal and she explained that she absolutely wants the music to get through to people. “Usually people connect to the music," she said. "Something is grabbing you. Then you want to know what the music is saying.” That is exactly right. The grooves are irresistible, but there is always more to discover. To help that, the album has full texts and translations of all the songs. Some are in Guadeloupian Creole – Tirolien is proud of her heritage – some in French and English. Thoroughly recommended.

Below: listen to 'Adjoni' by Bokanté

What 'History' shows, above all, is quite how multi-talented and adaptable Tirolien is

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters