Bai Kamara Jr. & The Voodoo Sniffers – Salone
15 songs – 50 minutes
The origins of the blues come through loud and clear on this CD, and it’s no wonder because guitarist/vocalist/songsmith Bai Kamara Jr. was born in West Africa, where it all began.
The son of a former ambassador, Kamara was born in Bo Town, Sierra Leone, grew up in the United Kingdom and has spent the better part of the past 25 years based out of Brussels, Belgium, where his father once served.
Deeply imbued with the polyrhythms of his native land, he started playing music while attending school in Manchester and Bath, England, where he fell under the spell of John Lee Hooker, Big Bill Broonzy and other American bluesmen. He’s enjoyed a successful career on the European soul/R&B circuit, releasing a handful of successful CDs since his debut release, the EP Lay Your Body, in 1996, but delivers a full plate of tunes rooted in the blues here.
The themes of corruption, abuse of power and the social injustice – all of which he witnessed in Africa and beyond — run like a river in the music he’s created previously. But this CD goes in another direction entirely. Using the Krio language word for his homeland, Salone, as its title, this work is literally a return to his roots, not surprising considering that he’s actively involved with Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders and other charities.
Kamara fronts a five-piece ensemble called The Voodoo Sniffers for this all-original set. The band’s composed of musicians from both sides of the Atlantic: American-born Tom Beardslee and Belgian Eric Moens handle guitar duties with Désiré Somé, who hails from Burkina Faso, on bass and Belgian Patrick Dorcean on percussion.
A rich baritone with a warm delivery, Bai will remind many listeners of Keb’ Mo’ – both for the quality of his vocals and for the intense rhythmic nature of the music he generates. Like Keb’, he digs a cadenced ditch from the jump, dives into it and drives relentlessly and pleasantly forward throughout, beginning with “Can’t Wait Here Too Long,” which finds Kamara standing at the crossroads in his life, knowing he has to move on, circular figures on the guitars building tension.
The theme continues in “Lady Boss,” a complaint about working overtime in a shop for a demanding a feminist who switches off between a suit and tie to high-heeled boots. The uneasy ballad “Black Widow Spider” recounts awakening from a dream to find an invader terrorizing his family in the kitchen before “Homecoming” celebrates a long-awaited return and revisiting the seeds planted long ago to see how they’ve grown.
The tempo picks up for the sprightly “Morning School Run Blues,” which finds Bai running late once again, while the polyrhythmic “Cold Cold Love” recounts the good times and feeling chilled to the bone but without any regrets long after a lady’s gone, a theme that continues in “The Rest of Everything,” which describes splitting belongings and the singer noting that all he needs is the bottle of wine, and “Cry Baby,” which finds the woman’s attitude change once the man’s handed her his keys.
The title for the next tune, “I Ain’t Lying (Can’t Give You What I Ain’t Got),” might seem like more of the same, but it’s a proud statement that Bai’s self-sufficient no matter the situation. A “natural-born hustler,” he’s a good provider with a train wreck for an ex. But, as the next number states: “Don’t Worry About Me” because he’s used to dealing with pain and suffering.
The mood changes considerably for the childhood remembrance, “Naked Girls on the Merry-Go-Round,” which weaves a lesson from Bai’s father with an observation about his brother. The pace quickens again for “Time Has Come” before the driving “Fortune” addresses lost love once more. “Riverboat Blues” reflects on regrets before the action closes with Kamara yearning for “Some Kind of Loving Tonight.”
Available through Amazon and other online retailers, Salone is hauntingly beautiful throughout — and strongly recommended. If you’re looking for something different, this is definitely it!