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Aron and the Jeri Jeri Band
Dama Bëgga Ñibi (I Want To Go Home) Ian Opolot , January 10th, 2024 08:39

From Senegal via Berlin, Aron and the Jeri Jeri Band fuse griot storytelling with jazz, reggae, afrobeats and electronics to spectacular effect, finds Ian Opolot

Aron and the Jeri Jeri Band’s debut album Dama Bëgga Ñibi (I Want To Go Home) is a simultaneously genre-bending and -binding offering that combines the contemporary and the traditional. Whilst the essence of Senegal, particularly through the native dance sound Mbalax, lies at the heart of the album, you can also hear elements of jazz, afrobeats, afrofunk, reggae and electronic music, a mix of sounds that is archetypal of the influence of the African diaspora. It is becoming more prevalent for music that originates from artists born and raised within the African continent to be influenced by sounds that have originated from Europe or the Americas, and this syncretism is a symptom of the rapid cultural exchange of influences that characterises this era.

The group is founded by Berlin-based composer and producer Aron Ottignon and Senegalese griot, Bakane Seck. It’s an eclectic project, vast in its array of sounds that vary from song to song, and symbolic of the infinite colour palette available to music of Black origin. Griots have been combining music and storytelling for centuries, using the medium as a mechanism for preserving oral traditions. Thus Seck’s role in the Jeri Jeri band is integral, carrying historical importance as we journey through the album (and through Senegal, too). But the album’s beautiful compositions also wonderfully capture the culture of today, under the significant influence of the internet and of migration.

Title track ‘Dama Bëgga Ñibi’ opens the album, passionately sung by Pape Diouf. Written during the summer of 2020 during lockdown, it emanates from a longing to return home. Whilst this longing is present, Diouf’s voice also carries a hint of a smile, as if he is singing from the vivid recollection of his memories of Senegal as a mechanism of coping with indefinite isolation. Dama Bëgga Ñibi is a celebration of Senegal, and this is even more evident on the second track, ‘Sunugal’. Emphatically paying homage, there is a feeling of immense pride in Ale Mboup’s sanguine voice combined with the choir of children in support, relaying to the listener that music is central to the Senegalese way of being. ‘Sunugal’ is a prayer to a marabout, a religious leader in Senegal, and a way to unite in times of difficulty, transmitting a strong sense of hope and especially togetherness regardless of circumstance. It makes a brilliant way for the listener to learn of Senegalese tradition.

Dama Bëgga Ñibi captures the essence of the African diaspora wonderfully. Tracks like ‘Mama Djuma’, ‘Teddoungal’, ‘Bongo Boys’ and ‘The Return of the Golden Egg’ are steeped in global influence, a combination of the traditional and contemporary. ‘Mama Djuma’ particularly transports us to the 1980s with its funk and soul essence, a tribute to Seck’s mother and too all mothers, perfectly captured in the emotional warmth of guest singer Toufa Mbaye’s voice. ‘Ngaldoore’ and ‘Teddoungal’ will us to the dance floor, rhythmic in ways that encourage the movement of the hips. It certainly does feel blasphemous to listen to it whilst rooted in your seat. On Dama Bëgga Ñibi, movement is freedom. Aron and the Jeri Jeri Band clearly enjoy the process of experimentation, and that is especially prevalent in ‘Bongo Boys’ and ‘Jeri Jeri’. Highly electronic and pulsating in their syncopation, perhaps likely to be most at home in a club in amongst a festival of flashing lights.

The choice of ‘Strange People’ to conclude the album is marvellous. Guest vocalist Aicha sings in an intoxicatingly piercing fashion, spectacularly recorded outside the banks of the Saloum River. You can sense the flowing water through a kind of synaesthesia, gently encouraging the listener to embody a feeling of calm. There is a strong sense of pride in Aicha’s voice, as we gain an understanding of Senegal’s spirituality with an echo that reverberates Senegal’s musical history and especially its significance to its people.

Dama Bëgga Ñibi is a vibrant representation of the globalisation of music. The preservation of historical traditions and the introduction of the contemporary, uniting generations old and new, demonstrating we have more in common than we think. Picture a music timeline from near the very beginnings to the present day. Dama Bëgga Ñibi captures this spectacularly.