Word has already got around that the new African Head Charge album "Trip to Bolgatanga" (On-U Sound) is not entirely of one piece compared to the overpowering early work. That was to be expected. The five to six reference albums, which were recently re-released as a box set, are the gold standard that this long-term project itself has set. All of them, up to and including "Voodoo of the Godsent" (2011), are avowedly studio projects, bi-polar sonic experiments with the drumming of Bonjo I as root work and grounding, and as a second powerhouse: Sherwood's reservoir of sounds, riddims, gear and mix maneuvers as well as his extended circle of friends. In addition, however, there have always been projects and phases in which the sound level leaned more towards Bonjo: AHC live, for example, when Sherwood wasn't at the mixer, or the trip to the Acid Jazz label, which gave Bonjo the opportunity to try himself as a bandleader . The albums have a rather apocryphal status, because the so-called "sci-fi" and "industrial" elements, which were popular at the time, were left out. The same applies to the Noah House of Dread project, which was set up specifically for Bonjo's Roots research and which I found to be ethnic kitsch at the time. Today I judge more mildly and recognize it as an early and completely understandable attempt by Bonjo to swim artistically free. But in all of his works, and this also applies to “A Trip to Bolgatanga”, his respective relationship to Africa is reflected. Born in Jamaica, Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah initially grew up in his grandmother's Rasta camp in Clarendon. He reluctantly followed his parents to England, where he established himself as a drummer in the XNUMXs, eventually crossing paths with Adrian Sherwood.
At the time of the first AHC album, for him as for Sherwood, "Africa" was still more of an abstract idea, a dreamland like in Brian Eno and David Byrne's album "My Life in a Bush of Ghosts" to which AHC was a British answer wanted to. They drew inspiration from the UK's immigrant culture and diaspora perspective rather than their own real-world experiences. It was still called “Visions of a Psychedelic Africa” in 2005, but a lot had happened in the meantime. Several trips to Ghana led Bonjo to stay there for longer and longer periods and now his life has completely changed there. Africa became more and more of a place of longing to reality for him. After a period on the coast, he has now moved inland, to the Upper Region near the Burkina Faso border. The climate here is drier, Muslims are in the majority compared to the Christian south, and the culture of the Frafra ethnic group dominates musically: on the one hand, a very unique form of gospel, mostly sung by women, and on the other hand, the youth culture of the Kologo -Bards. These are the griots of the area, they accompany their singing with two-stringed lutes and are a must at every wedding and funeral.
King Ayisoba is the first to build an international career out of this grassroots culture, and he opens the album in his tried and true manner. This has no sonic precedent on any AHC album, save for Mutabaruka's guest appearance on Vision of a Psychedelic Africa (2005), an album where the schism we are dealing with here was already beginning to emerge. Bass and percussions are reduced to the most reserved here, and the mix also leaves it at two or three reverb tails. The following instrumental "Accra" obviously wants to be a tribute to the capital and to a certain extent imitates its more urban sound, which is dominated by Afrobeats. Of course, it relates to the normally electronically smooth-coiffed original in the same way that Sherwood tunes like “Zero Zero One” did to dancehall reggae at the time. Clarinet player Steve Beresford unobtrusively closes a circle to the early work. His (tonal) clarinet is also there when the album finally reaches familiar territory in the third song: "Push Me Pull You" sways majestically at a slower pace and would have fitted on any of the classic albums. “I Chant Too” keeps the sluggish groove and of course the chanting, but conjures up a weird New Age vibe via the keyboard that makes the track the slackest of the first side. Because with "Asalatua" the A-side closes with an uptempo chaser that awakens pleasant memories of "In Pursuit of Shashamane Land".
Between these four (!) poles – local dialects, classic AHC sound, pop experiment and failed ballad – the game with variations is repeated on the second side. The album has a stylistic spectrum that is more reminiscent of a "Pay It All Back" sampler. However, this also makes the selection of songs for DJs compatible with other genres from Afrobeat to House to Reggae and Dubstep... and in individual cases also for the deep listening session. Compared to two failures, I find it much more annoying that the good numbers also stay under four minutes and therefore hardly have the opportunity to develop. Here we have to wait for the following remixes and B-sides. In terms of production, the album is a bit more versatile than it's good for, but it's also very subtle and permeable. The fact that the familiar house musicians Doug Wimbish, Skip McDonald and Crocodile are there is hardly noticeable in the music, their contributions are so minimalistic and pointed and sometimes simply technical - possibly signs of aging. Above all, the productive tension between Bonjo and Sherwood as songwriters and song designers continues on the album, which after a while on an equal footing has now turned in Bonjo's side. Africa is now a very real thing for him and all the songs reflect that in a musical, philosophical or social way. This also applies to his own drumming, which was once based on Nyabinghi patterns, while he has now also adopted the diverse West African dialects. In this respect, too, "Africa" is far more concrete for him than it was at the time of "Off the Beaten Track". Of course, apart from King Aysoba, half the neighborhood in Bolgatanga was involved in the project. African Head Charge is Bonjo's project in 2023, we hear his new home through his ears and drums. And like any good storyteller, it always pays to just listen.