Yes In My Backyard is a semiweekly column showcasing MP3s from new and emerging local talent.
The Brooklyn-via-West Africa collective Burkina Electric play an effortless blend of the traditional rhythms of Burkina Faso and speaker-shaking booty-bounce of modern club music. While guitarist Wende K. Blass, vocalist Mai Lingani, and dancers As and Vicky all originally hail from Burkina Faso, the Bushwick-based electronics guru and drummer Lukas Ligeti has made New York the band’s default home in recent years. Ligeti, the son of legendary Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti, started collaborating with musicians on the Ivory Coast in 1994 and has been mutating traditional music and contemporary electronics ever since — notably, the Burkina line-up is completed by legendary synth-punk Kurt “Pyrolator” Dahlke from German new wave pioneers D.A.F. The band’s debut album, Paspanga (Cantaloupe), is a high-energy burst of Madchester beats, woozy samples and outright woofer-wreckage, hopefully doing for Burkina Faso what Buraka Som Sistema did for Portugal, give or take a heavier dose of the more laidback, psychedelic vibe of Eno/Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Check out “Ligdi,” a track that surges with disorienting polyrhythms, soaring vocals, Art Of Noise-style electro blurts, and a blissful, vibrant, maddening, chant-along coda that could have been on Merriweather Post Pavillion, no fooling.
Burkina Electric’s Lukas Ligeti on “Ligdi”:
What is “Ligdi” about?
“Ligdi” means money in the More language, one of 60 languages in Burkina Faso, but among the most widely spoken — it’s the language of the Mossi people who live in the center of the country, around the capital city, Ouagadougou. The song is about the problems money can cause in interpersonal relationships — corruption, greed, etc.
Tell me about the rhythms you guys use.
The basic rhythm of the song is the waraba, a traditional bell pattern of the Mossi that can, like so many African rhythms, be understood as binary (2/4) or ternary (3/4). This constant tension of 2:3 creates a rhythmic ambiguity. That’s typical of African music, but in the case of the waraba, which is a very simple pattern, it’s especially clear. Our interpretation of the waraba here leans toward the 3/4 side, but it’s still ambiguous. We use samples of the traditonal mossi bell, the tchema, but have processed them beyond recognition using our electronics. For the final section of the piece, I play drums, so there’s a contrast between the programmed and the live-played beats. When i play the drums, I sometimes go out of time, abandoning the beat and play some ametric improvisations, but then i fall back in with the beat again. This contrasting of the precise drum machines with the more loose drumming and the totally free-improvised sections is very unusual, and has probably never been done before in African music.
Tell me about the particular recording and practicing hurdles when your bandmates live thousands of miles away…
It’s very difficult getting people together when they live so far apart. In the beginning, we were dependent on funding to have a week here and there to see each other. In 2006, we were able to work a bit through a grant that allowed Pyrolator and me to go to Burkina Faso. But since 2007 we’ve performed quite a bit and have been increasingly based in NYC. Pyrolator flies in when there are gigs, but the other bandmembers spend perhaps more time in NYC than in Africa. Like that, we’ve become a working band.
What’s your favorite place to eat in Bushwick?
It’s a great neighborhood but not a foodie mecca. I don’t cook, so I eat out often, and my favorite part of town to eat is Queens — Elmhurst, Woodside, Jackson Heights, etc. In Brooklyn, I like Sunset Park’s Chinatown and the Mexican restaurants on 5th ave. in the 40s. I also like some of the newer African restaurants that have opened around Bed Stuy, especially Le Grand Dakar on Grand Ave.