Rootsy Afropop: Okapi Guitars release Haram Homebrew

On their latest release these Australian Afro-guitar enthusiasts seem to be drifting northwards. While their last album Radio Free Zimbabwe (2004) took inspiration from the mbira music of Zimbabwe, and the swing grooves of South Africa, Haram Homebrew is drier and harsher. They’ve taken the trans-Saharan route, and the sun and wind have left their mark.

The first song on this album, Repent, growls with a trembling electric guitar straight out of the desert. The singer atones for his sins: his mobile phone and four wheel drive, the iPod racket and that big pay packet. The fat days are over. The time has come to face the reality of a new world order where the majority world calls the shots.

Two potent cover songs are included: Neil Young’s Ohio, a classic of protest, angry and urgent, here featuring twanging acoustic guitars and banjo; and the classic Paul Kelly/Kev Carmody land rights narrative From little things big things grow, transformed from a folksy waltz into thumping R&B meets Persian percussion. Wicked!


Other tracks are just as surprising: an evocative instrumental The Hornet of Osama combines pedal steel, trumpet and swooping middle eastern strings; Monoculture celebrates real and imagined micro subcultures – “this must mean something to someone somewhere”; and Tourist begins as Senegambian jazz before changing gear for a mbalax-style horn-driven second part.

The band’s characteristic interplay of two or more melodic guitars is augmented by banjo, bottleneck slide, dulcimer, pedal steel and sparse horn parts. Frequently drum kit is bypassed in favor of smaller percussion such as bongos and dumbek.

The band’s songwriters, John Laidler and Bernhard Huber, won a 2006 Australian Songwriting Association award in the Folk/Acoustic category for the song Unwashed from the Okapi Guitars’ CD Blue Kigara. That CD, and five others, are available from CDBaby.

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