Baxamaxam have a flash-pan selling point: they’re a Senegalese griot and an Italian electric guitarist duo, so listen in as West African cyclical grooves and cross-cycle melodies absorb loop-pedaled psych blues. But on their self-titled vinyl (Black Sweat) this is no shtick, because both guys are ridiculous musicians and transcend being a momentary interest piece.
Cristiano Buffa’s tone is crystal clear yet his improvisations are kaleidoscopic around the central riffs. The remarkable hand percussion, such as the precise off-accented wooden claps of “Retiou,” is made more impressive by the fact that Abdou Mbaye sings even-phrased melismas overtop. I want to start every day with the jubilance of “Mama.” My favorite songs, though, are the rhythmically simpler and more devotional “Demb” and “Mission,” where Mbaye plays thumb piano and expands the vocal melodies.
This record is not about an immediate clashing of cultures (the two musical sides are second cousins anyway). Within the songs, the placement of globalized Diaspora style within West African genre and form is not the distinguishing act. The main event is the head-nodding interplay between the two individual musicians. Why trace any route of influence or argue for source legitimacy when these guys can rattle off jams like closer “Nabi Blues,” which could very effectively soundtrack scenes of HBO whoopee-time for the next year?
Some more questions this record poses: Are this record and other creative cross-pollination records representative of what happens to regional music in our time? Are we sliding towards homogenization or relishing the free exchange of ideas? At what point does modernization cease to update but overtake its source, regardless of one’s opinion of the result?