DJ Diaki: Balani Fou review – landslide of rhythms brings Africa to the dancefloor

Ammar Kalia

Recent years have seen some of the most exciting dancefloor-focused music moving further and further away from its spiritual homes of Detroit, Chicago, Berlin or London. Now, styles such as South African gqom or Angolan kuduro-techno are pushing their way into club sound systems with rattling tempos in excess of 200bpm and unpredictable polyrhythms replacing the familiar four-to-the-floor kick.

The work released by Ugandan label Nyege Nyege Tapes is among the most inventive of these styles. Encompassing sounds from the ground-shaking rhythms of Tanzanian singeli to the electro-synths of Ugandan acholi, the label has been challenging a recent trend towards often purposefully punishing “deconstructed” club music with their joyous reimaginings of east African music. Their latest release by Malian DJ Diaki is no less formidable. A stalwart of the Balani Show sound system – a party setup playing electronic, layered versions of the marimba-style instrument balafon – Diaki now releases his debut on Nyege Nyege.

Aptly titled Crazy Balani, or Balani Fou, it may sound like a panic attack to unaccustomed ears – a chaotic landslide of differing rhythms playing all at once. But, much like the percussive layering of jungle, Diaki’s balani is artfully composed and full of depth that is initially masked by its incredible pace. Just as the concatenations of jungle might have reflected the alienating fragmentation of 90s urban life, so Diaki’s balani reflects the ecstatic, feet-pounding party atmosphere of the Balani Show outings.

Tracks such as But Show Diaki DJ blends 80s drum pads with a rolling arpeggiated synth to create a wholly absorbing sound, while the marginally slower Shekey Mix builds an infectious melody over a carnivalesque selection of percussion sounds.

The beauty of Balani Fou lies in its overwhelming presence. It might initially attack with its harsh samples and unrelenting pace, yet once you succumb to its information overload, there is an immense intricacy and danceability to be found in each track. And when the record cuts off abruptly, the ensuing silence doesn’t quite sound the same as it used to.

Also out this month

Featuring her vocals for the first time alongside her typically thoughtful sitar playing, Anoushka Shankar’s Love Letters is a soft, pillowy offering of a record, featuring a cinematic highlight on the balladry of Those Words. Bossa nova pioneer Sérgio Mendes celebrates his sixth decade in the industry with In the Key of Joy. While unconvincing on the hip-hop crossover tracks featuring the likes of will.i.am and Common, Mendes’s relentlessly optimistic instrumental arrangements are a much-needed antidote to the winter gloom. Morroccan multi-instrumentalist Majid Bekkas brings a sweeping, spiritual jazz outlook to his gnawa music on Magic Spirit Quartet. Bekkas’s earthy voice is captivating on numbers such as Hassania and Annabi, while his collaboration with Swedish trumpeter Goran Kajfeš is a cross-cultural delight.