Apart from in the field of sport, the place given by France to members of its former colonies and DOM TOM (French overseas departments and territories) is rather limited.
Compared with the United Kingdom – which also was once a major colonizer, but has now formed a commonwealth with African and Caribbean countries, not to mention Canada, New Zealand and Australia, which were once part of its empire – the number of musicians from Africa and the West Indies in French jazz is notoriously low, although things seem to be changing on this front.
The existence of the group African Jazz Roots is all the more remarkable in that it is a pioneer, having existed since 2012, when French drummer Simon Goubert and the Senegalese kora player Ablaye Sissoko met at the Saint Louis jazz festival in Senegal.
It was a landmark encounter for the two men, and led to the formation of a group that is now in its third incarnation, offering us a recording that has taken a long time to mature. This quintet, of which Goubert and Sissoko are the main composers and arrangers (although the other members also contribute to the repertoire), has developed an aesthetic in which the two African musicians are not guests tasked with “coloring” the music, but full-fledged members, contributing to a group sound that never leans towards world music.
The only theme composed by the calabash player sees Goubert develop, in duet with his partner and without resorting to cymbals, a way of playing on the toms that owes much to Africa. The presence of an acoustic piano and a double bass – two instruments generally absent from traditional or modern African music – clearly demonstrates this desire to develop an aesthetic of exchange and mixing.
African Jazz Roots is a joyful, festive music. A music where melody and rhythm blend harmoniously and where improvisation is very much present. A great success, and one that makes us hope that more French jazz musicians will want to go towards their colleagues born in the tropics.
Simon Goubert: drums, piano
Ablaye Cissoko: kora
Sophia Domancich: piano
Jean-Philippe Viret: double bass
Ibrahima Ndir: calabashes
Seetu was released by Peewee, on January 27, 2024.