Nok Cultural Ensemble: Njhyi review – a relentlessly Afrofuturist percussive voyage
You might have encountered Edward Wakili-Hick in various guises over the years. As Eddie Hick, he has been a key figure on London’s jazz scene, drumming with the likes of Nubya Garcia, Gilad Atzmon and Sons of Kemet, leading the Steam Down sessions in Deptford under the moniker Nache, and playing sessions with everyone from Mark Ronson to Florence and the Machine. You might even have heard him as a teenager, playing trumpet in a railwayman’s brass band in his native York, or seen him spinning on his head with a breakdancing crew in Leeds.
His latest project, the Nok Cultural Ensemble, doesn’t resemble anything else on his CV. At its core is a four-piece drum circle, with kit drummer Wakili-Hick joined by Onome Edgeworth (from Kokoroko), Dwayne Kilvington (AKA Wonky Logic) and Joseph Deenmamode (AKA Mo Kolours), all playing African percussion such as the Ghanaian kpanlogo, the tambourine-like Mauritian ravanne, the ekwe log drum or the gankogui cowbell. Crucially, these are mixed with other instruments throughout time and space, from caxixi shakers to cajon box drums and Roland drum machines, linking Africa to the diaspora and taking us from Jamaican nyabinghi to grime, from Brazilian baião to drill, from rumba to dub.
So complex and compelling are these fusions that you barely notice the scarcity of melodic instruments. Even the guest horn players play deliberately restrictive solos: Awakening sees tuba player Theon Cross blowing minimalist morse code pulses on a conch shell; on YTTT saxophonist Nubya Garcia limits herself to an odd four-note scale on a flute; on Ancestral Visions, Wakili-Hick plays a Ghanaian bamboo flute as if it were purely part of a rhythm section. Only on Enlightenment does Chicago’s Angel Bat Dawid let rip with a slippery, wayward clarinet freakout.
The band is named after the mysterious Nok culture which flourished in what is now Nigeria in around 1500BC, leaving behind terracotta sculptures which looked staggeringly modernistic when they were unearthed in the 1920s. It’s a useful metaphor for this album’s relentless Afrofuturism; this is transhistorical music that serves as a portal linking the ancient past and the distant future.
Also out this month
Pigments (Merge Records, released 21 October) is a unique collaboration between New Orleans soul singer Dawn Richard and New York composer Spencer Zahn, a mix of vaporous, ambient instrumentals and astral jazz torch songs which blend into a blissful suite. The Blue Hour (Nonesuch/New Amsterdam) is a semi-operatic song-cycle written collaboratively by a veritable who’s who of new female composers, including Caroline Shaw, Shara Nova from My Brightest Diamond, pianist Rachel Grimes and Puerto Rican accordionist Angélica Negrón. Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach’s Musica Liquida (Sofa Music) is the result of a curious sonic research project: all noises on the album are created by the resonance created by vibrating speakers being placed in the proximity of assorted drums, creating distorted rattles, hums, drones and throbs that are artfully orchestrated.