Duende Libre: The Dance She Spoke

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Mother Africa – and everything that makes her ineffably beautiful – has probably never been as alive and the centre of attention since the first civilisations and kingdoms of pre-history – if only by artists of every persuasion. The small ensemble Duende Libre, notionally helmed by composer and pianist Alex Chadsey, is one of the latest groups to deep dive into African culture. Artists from Brian Jones, William Burroughs, Paul Bowles, Brion Gysin, Ornette Coleman, Bill Laswell, Pharoah Sanders, Bengt Berger and scores of others have gone before them. They have all found something elemental and preternatural: that everything is music and music is a lived experience – not simply by the singular faculty of hearing – but by the whole body. Some, like the Brasilian samba musicians have carried it with them through elemental pain, across the seas to their new homes and practice this even today.

Significantly this is something that has been alive in the continuum of African life – as alive as it always has been. Foli: There is no movement without rhythm which is a superb 2010 documentary produced and directed by Thomas Roebers and Floris Leeuwenberg takes us into that world. And the curtain has been pulled aside to reveal this time and time again by artists who have, with sincerity and humility, ventured into the world of African life. It seemed only a matter of time before Mr Chadsey and Duende Libre would do likewise. In 2017 Duende Libre first gave notice [as a trio with Mr Chadsey, bassist Farko Dosumov and drummer Jeff “Bongo” Busch, augmented by the celestial-voiced Chava Mirel] and Duende Libre, an eponymously named album that they were about to pursue the deeper meaning of their art. They followed that up with Drift in 2018. And now there is The Dance She Spoke.

Pedantics and refusniks would question the validity and logic of the title of this album. But in Africa, the mother of all humanity and nations, where rhythm is integral to the movement of the body, the cadence of breath and speech, lives are lived in song – no matter how tragic they might be. Once you understand this, you understand Africa. Duende Libre has taken the latest progressive step in that direction and the results are majestic and eloquent as well. The music of The Dance She Spoke revisits past music by the group and builds gracefully on past musical threads and architecture. African traditions melded in with the contemporary musical inflections of African “hi-life” rhythms collide with guitarist Jabrille “Jimmy James” Williams’ soaring forays on “You Gotta Go”.

But there is also much more in the more traditional rhythms; these begin with “Dawn” and continue through the rollicking music of Fefo, “N’Gri” and other tracks. Frank Anderson’s vocals – like Miss Mirel’s – turn up the heat and wind up the nervous energy until it becomes almost too much to bear. In music that starts with “N’Gri” and runs through “Echoes” and “Mendiani” African life is depicted with cinematic sweep as the music explodes with Thione Diop’s broodingly percussive tumbling grooves before a loose and funky close of that sequence followed – at the end of the recording – with the superb, reflective music of “Hush”. All in all, The Dance She Spoke has definitely been worth the wait – although it hasn’t been all that long. Much more is to be expected from Duende Libre, a group of gifted musicians who seem to be doing everything right.

Track list – 1: Hush [Dawn]; 2: Fefo [Hamana]; 3: Dansa [Khasso]; 4: N’Gri [Wassoulou]; 5: Echoes [Wassoulou]; 6: Mendiani [Hamana]; 7: Lafé [Hamana]; 8: You Gotta Go; 9: Hush [Twilight]

Personnel –  Frank Anderson: vocals, sangban and handclaps; Chava Mirel: vocals and handclaps; Alex Chadsey: piano, Fender Rhodes, Hohner Clavinet D6; Hammond B3 organ, vocals and handclaps; Farko Dosumov: 5-string electric bass and handclaps; Jeff “Bongo” Busch: drum set, berimbau, percussion, vocals and handclaps; Thione Diop: tama and djembe [4 – 6]; Jabrille “Jimmy James” Williams: electric guitar [8]

Released – 2020
Label – Independent
Runtime – 54:43

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