Spirit is deep, dark shadows real, and playful day-to-day appreciations of beauty sung – these are required in this eclectic Afro jazz collaboration featuring Central, Eastern, and Southern African musical stories.
After his successful “Buyanini” album which pleased as another sonic, Afro-centric smorgasbord journey, Frank Paco’s visions grow deeper towards new horizons, announcing that the world is changing with citizen awareness, hope, and joy amongst current and past dark shadows of oppression and subjugation. Let’s be positive – this is what his latest album, New Horizons, is all about, both musically and in its messages.
FP Art Ensemble is a group of illustrious musicians called together by Paco’s unyielding appetite for the interactive, for inclusion. All have strong influences derived from their roots, such as Congolese bassist and songbird Sylvain Beloubeta (adds effective vocals in French as well), Mozambiquan percussionist John Hassan, the enigmatic style of vocalist Zoe Modiga,
steelpans master Dave Reynolds, key vocalists like Amanda Tiffin, trumpets from Capetownian Darren English (now resident in USA) and Norwegian Hildegunn Oiseth, other guitars from local stalwarts Allou April and Keenan Ahrends, and several keyboardists, including the exciting Congo-Brazzaville pianist Nelson Malela and Capetown-seasoned Blake Hellaby.
Sax man Buddy Wells uses mainly a high pitched soprano saxophone, an effective additive to the songs’ emotional presentations. As Paco says, “the project seeks to instil a sense of pride in our ancestral heritage, promoting unity in our diverse cultural societies and to bring about awareness of the fact that there is a common thread that links us all, even though we speak different languages, have different cultural practices, but through music we are one.”
New Horizons reeks of West African Congolese, Mozambique rhythms, local Cape jazz sounds, some swinging shoobee-doo-bee-doo put to Afro beats, danceable funk, swing pop characteristics in Paco’s samba beats; melodic ballads supported by vocalist Zoe Modiga; all with an obvious passion to spread the samba message in various ways.
The songs are stories about culture and history, presented in various languages of Mozambique (including Portugese), and in French and local languages of the Congos. “Ancestral Footsteps” reminds us to honour our roots; a call for peace and love in Mozambique in “Moz Blues”; be light in spirit and discover life as a sweet melody, as cried out in “New Horizons” and “I Wanna Dance”. More macabre songs talk about a man squandering his family’s money in “Tshelete” featuring Modiga’s vocals in wifely chastisement, and the unusual reminder about the treatment of slaves in “Madame Desbassayns”, which carefully avoids lyrics and lets the soprano sax wail its sad message. In “Grain de Poussiere”, Beloubeta’s forceful vocals suggest one should take life as a grain of sand, again, lightly. The delightful swing of “That’s How My Song Goes” queries if you cannot change things, smell the roses! There are those romantic beach songs, too, stylishly presented in “Red Moon Gazing” and the pre-party bounce in “Madrugada”. It has to be Mozambique’s Indian Ocean beaches!
The awakened listener won’t resist gleefully singing along on a number of tracks, so it’s best that the album be played in the confines of a car where song breakout won’t startle the public or security. But then again, why not broadcast? There’s a carnival-esque bounciness that morfs into danceable and smiley expressions as one self-absorbs into the songs. “Remembering Madiba” does just that as it mimics Mandela’s famous dance steps and rhythms.
Paco dedicates this album to his parents who nourished his talents so diligently. His several brother siblings count amongst some of Mozambique’s leading musicians as well; this musical family knows well its cultural roots and futures in pushing African and ‘World music’ forward. New horizons indeed abound as the rising moon and sun bless the unforgettable musical soundscape that we so enjoy through Paco’s Art Ensemble.
See the FP Art Ensemble performs this Sunday, 3 September, at The Masque Theatre, Main Rd, Muizenberg starting 1830 hours. His band includes Peter Ndlala (bass), Buddy Wells(sax), Brathew van Schalkwyk (piano) and the rising star vocalist Adelia Douw. Also, the Ensemble will perform at the Masque in mid-October during the Muizenberg Jazz Festival which is a key addition to the annual arts, culture, and food Festival.