“Between 2 Worlds” is the second CD release for Elikeh (Azalea City Recordings; released 2012). They are a big band based in Washington, D.C. who are best heard live. Imagine the punch of James Brown’s horns combined with the melodic guitar of Afrobeat and you would not go far wrong. Comprised of drums, percussion, two lead guitars, bass, two sax, trumpet and keyboards, their stage presence can enliven a sleepy crowd and get everyone on the dance floor.
This CD does an excellent job of capturing the band’s live sound and their versatility as performers: with a bass section that has the flexibility to encompass Togolese rhythms and funk in one heartbeat.
I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Massama Dogo, their leader, about this latest release. When I asked him about the difference between this CD and the first, Massama, on lead vocals and guitar, explains, “On the first CD, we recorded different sections of musicians to make one track, here we recorded each track all together live in the studio.” Massama always wants to learn, “I seek inspiration from all the band members. We all come from different places and developed skills in different genres, rock, soul, yet I like to learn where I can. I learn from Frank Martins (lead guitar) and Clayton Englar (sax) who are both veterans.”
The CD starts with “No Vision” a slow, languorous track that uses a delicate guitar sound, but then builds in energy to the upbeat, highly danceable “Olesafrica” (an Osibisa cover). Here the music takes off as the chant of “Olesafrica” is interspersed between the lyrics and carries the music forward. The drummer opens up and flies with an intricate and hypnotic solo. It is with the fast, high energy songs such as this one that Elikeh excels. The lead guitar stretches out and space is made for a good rock improvisation. Massama’s deep, heartfelt voice adds to the quality of the music. Throughout this album Massama’s authentic, determined and sometimes frustrated voice compels the listener to pay attention.
Massama is impassioned about justice and this comes across in his lyrics. He says, “Injustice has been around since before I started to play music. To fight injustice is a part of my heart so it is natural that it be in the music.”
The music is helped this time by guest appearances from two great musicians, Vieux Farke Touré and John Kadlecik. Vieux originates from the Malian blues tradition, his father was the renowned musician Ali Farka Touré, while John comes from the American rock tradition. When asked about the experience of working with Vieux, Massama relates, “We opened for him in Washington, D.C., and ever since then, we became friends. When we found out he would record with us the band were jumping up and down like kids with excitement.”
This friendship can be felt on the track “Alonye.” Here Vieux’s bluesy guitar riffs fit right into the upbeat swing of the band. Vieux’s blues bring a soulful feeling to the music. Rather than taking over though, he has the understanding and sensibility to work right alongside the band with his guitar. On “Alonye” Vieux’s guitar in part echoes and corresponds with Massama’s deep and direct vocals, as if both are enjoying and thriving from the connection.
When I asked Massama about his hopes for the future of the group, he says: “Right now we are a regional band, I am hoping we will get more national gigs and little by little I want us to become international.”
With “Between 2 Worlds” Elikeh have finally arrived. A hard working and disciplined band, they deserve more space in the spotlight.