It was the band’s love for Mali’s folk music – and Ali Farka Touré’s stylistic prowess in particular – that first set the project in motion. London’s Jazz Cafe invited Waaju to reinterpret classic tracks from Farka Touré’s catalogue to sold-out audiences in 2018 and 2019. According to Brown: “Ali’s one of the best. He has such a unique sound. His playing is so gnarly. His spirit and attitude are things I always think of when making music.” Waaju (meaning ‘to urge, inspire or influence to take action’ in Malian language Bambara) blends pulsing Latin polyrhythms, psychedelic Malian blues licks and cinematic textures. Following the group’s 2018 self-titled debut record, Grown presents a group more unified and distinctive-sounding than ever with six fresh, bold compositions.
The record begins with Moleman, a potent reminder of the intricacy and energy Waaju’s become known for. Gritty, clattering metal defines the landscape for sizzling builds, hinting at rave culture styles like Bashment and Jungle. Listening Glasses follows and it’s clear why this is the album’s lead single – its Afrobeat-like energy and joyful interplay between guitar and tenor sax lies somewhere between Tony Allen’s grooves, Chimurenga guitar and Headhunters’ funk. On late night jam Rollando, Joe Downard’s skulking bass frequencies rule and wonkiness reaches new heights as heavy dub grooves almost tear themselves apart. Time’s Got a Hold was co-written by Waaju and Jordan Rakei for a show together in November 2018. Kicking off side B, this version features special guest vocalist Will Heard over bouncing triplets evocative of 1970’s Sega from La Reunion.
A kind of looseness found only at night, the quiet drive of Wassoulou is sparse yet purposeful. Pulling back the tempo and dimming the lights, cavernous percussion fills each corner of the room, springing back as spectral reverbs. The title and final track shows the many dynamic sides of the outfit’s far-reaching sound, with its expansive harmonies and explosive psychedelia, spanning Yoruba Andabo to Hendrix, signing off an exciting and energetic second LP from Waaju at their most scintillating.