By Jim Hynes for Glide Magazine
Step back for just a minute and realize how remarkable it is that we are hearing one of the world’s oldest instruments paired with synthesizers, soundscapes, samples, and all manner of 21st Century sounds. Weedie Braimah is a participant, conveyer, and purveyor of his bandleader Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s Stretch Music concept, which incorporates many genres and styles. Braimah is the world’s premier voice of the West African drum, the Djembe, and he steps out for his debut, The Hands of Time, as part of the Stretch Music movement, in conjunction with Ropeadope.
Currently, in addition to touring with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, he works with Baaba Maal, Trombone Shorty, and Bokanté, as well as others. Braimah also leads his own band, Weedie Braimah & The Hands of Time, through which he elevates percussion as the front-facing music of the diaspora focusing on native instruments such as Kora, Ngoni, Balafon, Djembe, Dunun, Tama, and Sabar. These blend with electric bass and guitar to create a compelling Stretch Music sound that has elements of jazz, funk, fusion, global music, and hip-hop. Yet, it is distinctly African, mainly because the primary percussion instruments are positioned so prominently in the mix. That’s not something we are used to. It’s as if you’re sitting in Braimah’s chair as he listens to his monitor.
The core unit is Braimah’s Grammy-nominated Hands of Time band and configurations on these tracks range from as little as a spoken duet with Talise Campbell to Christian Scott AA appearing three times and Elena Pinderhughes once. Other recognizable musicians are Cory Henry (keys on “Sackodougon”), Trombone Shorty (trumpet and trombone on “Back to Forward”), Terrace Martin (saxophone on “Hippos in Space”), Tarriona Tank Ball (vocals) and Pedrito Martinez (congas, bass, vocals) on “Send for Me.
As mentioned, there are a host of musicians mixing traditional African instruments with electric ones, touches of electronica, and chanting on several of the tracks, some of which get spacey, the classic example of which is “Sackodougon” where Dickey’s Ngoni, Kassis’ electric guitar, Henry’s keys, Scott’s trumpet, and Dave Eggar’s cellos merge with the percussion in otherworldly. kaleidoscopic textures. On “Hippos in Space” we have Christian Scott AA and Terrace Martin similarly weaving through soundscapes and a backward piano. Throughout, Braimah leads mostly with his Djembe, although he adds other percussive instruments on some tracks.
Other highlights include “Back to Forward” (An Ode to Bontuku) where Trombone Shorty blows his horns over a soundscape that includes two synthesizers, two electric guitarists, and three drummer/percussionists; the brief “When the Clouds Kissed,” featuring ethereal vocals above just a quartet; the undulating, insistent “Send for Me” with Ball and Martinez, and the familiar blending and soloing of flute and trumpet from Pinderhughes and Scott in the searching, explorative “Ships Come In” (A Lullaby). The album was recorded at multiple studios and the most germanely African track, “Rompe El Cuero,” replete with vocals from Osain del Monte and Alain Perez, was recorded in Havana.
This may be the blueprint for modern music rooted in African percussion. It takes the Stretch Music concept to a slightly different plane and further cements Weedie Braimah’s identity as a leading voice not only on his instrument but in forward-thinking musical concepts.