Daniel Haaksman – African Fabrics (Album Review)

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It’s been an age since I’ve written anything but the new album from Berlin-based Daniel Haaksman has been a real motivational force so I’m delighted to be finally getting around to reviewing this, it’s the perfect way to start 2016’s album wants list.

Haaksman has been part of my musical landscape for sometime without me knowing it as he runs the brilliant Man Recordings whose releases I’ve been enjoying for several years. Man Recordings became well known for baile funk but have been putting out records from artists worldwide who have a kaleidoscopic musical view. The one common factor with their output has been that the tracks are electronic, bass-heavy tunes that demand dance floor attention.

Daniel Haaksman himself is on album number two with African Fabrics and it’s an absolute belter. The album title gives away the release’s major influence as we get to enjoy eleven tracks that circuit a range of major African musical styles with marimbas, highlife guitars and kalimbas all in the mix. Everything is underpinned by well-balanced beats and bleeps covering a range of tempos and genres from juke to techno, house to bass. There’s also a visual thread through the artwork for each track and the album cover that echoes the work of British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare.

The album opens with Akabongi, a cover version of a South African pop hit featuring Spoek Mathambo on vocals and drizzled in enough sunshine to make you want to dive straight out of the window in search of the nearest field and soundsytem. Sembène comes next with more glorious guitar to the fore front, this time Congolese-influenced, before the beats dance round a wobbly funk baseline; this a undiluted musical happiness. If you haven’t fallen in love with this by this time I fear for your mental health. The track is a homage to one of Daniel Haaksman’s major inspiration, the Senegalese filmmaker Ousmae Sembène.

There’s more guests (plenty feature on the album) on Kaggua in the shape of Ku Bo and Tsila, the later singing in her native Ugandan tongue to Luganda over a shuffling, spitting groove. The lead single Rename The Streets comes next with a marimba line backed by beats more South London than anywhere else.

Bulldozer is the next guest on Sabado as the album looks across the Atlantic Ocean for a moment to tip it’s hat at Colombia and the musical influence South America has had on African styles. Black Coffee sends love to the beloved bean with Mozambican Dma Do Bling flowing over a rhythm broken by a thunderous kick but lightened by toots of flutes. Guest baton is next handed to anarchic kuduro band Throes and The Shine whose vocal energy matches the fast-pitched bass and bouncy snares. From Angolo it’s off to Zimbabwe and the streets of Harare via a Chicago juke joint for Aho as Haaksman chops and warps a street choir’s harmonies.

After this chaotic carnival there’s a moment of calm and tranquility from Afrika which features more Angolan talent in the shape of Tony Amado who teams up with Mozambican singer Alcindah for a vocal duel over tranced-out shuffler. This beautiful re-set of energy is finished off by another marimba line on Raindrops, this time a more restrained and gentle riff before Bulldozer unleashes his guitar again for Querido. His playing is drenched in melancholy that compliments the squawking energy of the rhythm track perfectly and closes this cracker of an album in great style.

African Fabrics manages to handle full-on party bangers with a great subtlety and expression whilst dipping into topics and emotions that make albums worthwhile listens. The range of styles and influences means no track is a filler and I’m looking forward to playing every track throughout the upcoming festival season as there’s gold there!

African Fabrics is out now on Man Recordings for download  via Boomkat or Juno or you can get hold of the vinyl direct from the label along with a free poster of the album artwork (and Daniel Haaksman’s debut album too if, like me, you realise just how talented this chap is).

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