Last month, powerhouse mandé jazz ensemble Balimaya Project release their second album When The Dust Settles via New Soil in partnership with Jazz re:freshed on July 21, 2023. A dynamic maturation of the group’s thrilling big band sound, When The Dust Settles is a personal and cathartic expression of grief, rage, love and joy. Fusing West African rhythmic tradition with the energy of London’s jazz continuum, the album celebrates the restorative power of Black male brotherhood among diaspora communities in London.
Led by composer/arranger and UK-based Djembe player Yahael Camara Onono, Balimaya Project have established themselves as one of the most exciting and forward-thinking ensembles in Britain.
Enlisting guest vocalists Afronaut Zu, Obongjayar and Fassara Sacko across ten groove-laden and punchily percussive tracks, each song on When The Dust Settles engages intentionally with the significance of folkloric rhythms to illuminate themes that include the death of Camara Onono’s older brother, losing a child, becoming a father, migration, survival and a search for truth. As Camara Onono describes: “One thing that’s really linking us is that concept of family and the bonds are getting stronger every time … It was important to me to go deeper and address not just tradition and culture, but also address emotion.”
Developing the group’s sophisticated song-writing approach from the highly rehearsed arrangements of 2021 debut album Wolo So to a more intuitive and fluid recording process, When The Dust Settles articulates the central concern of Balimaya Project to create a safe space for young Black men to express their vulnerabilities together, claiming West African heritage as part of contemporary Black British culture and pushing back against the lazy pigeon-holing of what is the most culturally diverse continent on earth.
The album begins with ‘For Aziz’, in which Camara Onono reckons with the death of his older brother, Abdul Aziz Onyeamaechi Onono, killed on a UN peacekeeping mission in Nigeria when Camara Onono was 11. Voiced by the British Nigerian singer Afronaut Zu, the lyrics expand on the impermanence embedded within the name Onyeamaechi, which means ‘Who knows tomorrow?’. Ending on a traditional Yoruba praise singing of the Oriki, Zu extols “Iku” or death’s attributes in a rousing flood of emotion and release.
Translated as “let’s play” in Maninkakan, ‘Anka Tulon’ is a celebration of that boisterous impulse – a percussive and horn-led tour de force that speaks to the brotherhood and friendship fostered within the band. Bubbling with joy, ‘Anka Tulon’ is Balimaya Project at their loosest and most persuasive, hinting at the way they have lit up festival stages around the world. Following ‘For Aziz’ – as love follows grief – it also demonstrates just how complex and multifaceted life can be.
The power of When The Dust Settles lies in its unflinching confrontation with Camara Onono’s deepest emotional experiences. A moving ballad, ‘Suley’s Ablution’ addresses the death of Camara Onono’s first child, a tragedy he only began to process when he became a father once more. Held in the open support of the group, these feelings are guided to resolution by the Zinli rhythm from Nigeria and Benin, traditionally played at Royal Funerals to aid spirits on their way out of the mortal realm. Mixed with a bata ensemble, played for the spirit guides of Egun, the track demonstrates the emotional and musical maturity of a band at the height of its powers.
As Camara Onono writes in the liner notes: “This album is dedicated to the deep breath before the plunge, that moment of silence before diving into depths unknown. It is dedicated, not only to the sacrifice that bore fruit, but to the offering that was made in vain. It is an acceptance and a reckoning with pain, regret, joy and hope. We hope that it encourages you to take your own plunge…” It’s time to follow where Balimaya Project lead.
When The Dust Settles Tracklist:
- For Aziz feat. Afronaut Zu [Watch visualiser]
- Anka Tulon [Watch visualiser]
- A Prayer For Our Parents
- Bé Mankan
- Red Oil/Beyond Kingdom Come feat. Obongyajar
- When The Dust Settles
- There’s Nothing Left For Us Here feat. Fassara Sacko
- Suley’s Ablution [Watch video]
- Golo Kan
- Seasons Of Baraka
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