Wau Wau Collectif
Yaral Sa Doom
If we are to accept that art from Africa is just that, art from a place and the place itself is irrelevant to how we experience the art and if we are to look and listen without patronising then we must listen to Wau Wau Collectif’s music in the same way we listen to Soft Cell or Taylor Swift.
Put together by Karl Jonas Winqvist, an unfortunately described ‘musical archeologist’ from Sweden, via a series of apparently accidental and improvised recording sessions in Toubab Dialaw in Senegal with the help of more local collaborator and studio engineer Arouna Kane, this album feels like a sweet, sophisticated prank.
Cutesy children’s voices (check); authoritative senior male voice (check); various drums, tastefully positioned in the mix (check); a version of La Bamba (err, check)… La Bamba (according to this description, see link below) is a song from Veracruz adapted from African slaves referencing a rebellion in 1683. The tradition of rhythms and styles sailing back and forth across the Atlantic between south and central America and various African countries is a long one. Rhythms that began in Africa, transformed and formalised in Brazil, returned to Africa, before venturing out, yet again, speculative messages in bottles, to land on the beaches in Ramsgate or Gothenburg, mostly somehow considered ‘authentic’ and ‘native’, instead of the sophisticated warping of ultramodern arrangement and production they were.
Which brings us to Wau Wau Collectif. The version of La Bamba, here called Thiante, a gently undulating travel-show soundtrack that reminds in places of Kraftwerk’s Ruckzuck, sits happily between the other easy going pieces. Yaral Sa Doom II, built around a series of Omnichord chords and a deliberately crude drum machine playing the Soul II Soul beat, layered with the aforementioned authoritative senior male voice and a chorus of kids. And a jolly saxophone.
Other tracks sit in the European interpretation of folktronica that grew around Devendra Banhart and to this day soundtracks hangover coffees in hipster bars. Lofi elements, probably recorded on mobile, slotted in to more conventional mixes to add colour, songs re-edited to last as long as a sipped coffee. It all works really well. The different voices, as if we’re snooping, the ironic simplicity and, particularly on Mohamodou Lo and His Children, the feeling that we are witnessing and jamming with an ever-ongoing village community, dropping in for a festival, tapping our spoons on our cups.
How much instrumentation was added subsequent to the original recordings isn’t clear. Winqvist is a very active musician and producer, his label, Sing A Song Fighter has numerous releases, all with a modern folk ‘feel’ and he has connections to Scotland’s Fence Collective, a Gaelic outpost of the folktronic, ‘quiet’ scene. Would this music have happened without his presence? Would we have heard it if it did? Does it matter?
If we are to encounter Wau Wau Collectif in the same musical universe as the one inhabited by Megan Thee Stallion and Fat White Family then we have to describe them as a gentle, invented, easy listening outfit, spiced with knowing production, enough spice to ease away the nagging suspicion that it’s a sweet joke at the expense of worthy world music fans, who balk at the description ‘world music’, because all music is world music, right?