Put A Konk On It: Spectra Volume 2 By ||ALA|MEDA||

Polish experiementalists (Stara Rzeka, Innercity Ensemble, and Alameda 5) team up with South African trio Phelimuncasi in a burst of bubbling notes and sheer elation, finds Antonio Poscic

The recording of a rapturous performance by Tanzanian singeli duo Sisso and Maiko at the Boiler Room Festival 2023 in Berlin and the pair’s upcoming album Singeli Ya Maajabu on Nyege Nyege Tapes are among the most important electronic music events of the year. The unstoppable spread of their joyous, endlessly danceable music through social media is the natural next phase of a process that saw amapiano, gqom, Afrohouse, and baile funk take over Western dancefloors. While US, UK, and Western European producers appear stuck with their heads up their arses, preoccupied discussing the pollution of dance music with overbearing concepts, the beats coming from the so-called Global South – a term just slightly less colonialist than “world music” – are disarming in their explosive inventiveness and directness.

Despite the surging popularity of African and South American electronic music, particularly in chic European clubs, we are yet to see an army of western producers borrowing elements from these styles. For now, cross-pollination remains constrained to a few very creative, tastefully done collaborations involving the likes of Freya Edmondes (Drunken Love with Lord Spikeheart, Headroof with Villaelvin), Ziúr (Eyeroll), and the progressive kuduro of Lisbon based Afro-Portuguese artists (eg, DJs Di Guetto on Principe). These projects are now joined by a group of Polish musicians gathered around the Brutality Garden collective and label. ||ALA|MEDA||’s Spectra Volume 2 is the latest of their incarnations.

While it already gestured at the direction that ||ALA|MEDA|| would take in the following years, the motorik progressive rock of 2019’s Eurodrom now seems like a long forgotten fever dream. Just as on 2022’s Spectra Volume 1, the sound of their new record is characterised by a deep revelry for gqom and batida, whose incessant, hypnotic rhythms drive the six cuts. But unlike the unbearable mimicry and colonial baggage of Belgian groups performing Afrobeat or very white French bands tackling Ethio-jazz, there is a certain respect for the original music at play here, which gets transformed by a genuine creative spark.

On Spectra Volume 2 the synthesizers and electronic effects operated by two stalwarts of Poland’s experimental music scene Jakub Ziołek and Łukasz Jędrzejczak rule supreme, accompanied by an equally critical rhythmic foundation provided by Jacek Buhl on drums, Rafał Iwański on percussion, and Piotr Michalski on bass. Keeping with the theme of evolution and continuous change, the current iteration of the group developed from previous incarnations of Alameda 3 through 5, all of which saw Ziołek work with bassist Mikołaj Zieliński and a varied cast of collaborators creating droning dark ambient and psychedelic noise rock.

The admiration that ||ALA|MEDA|| nurture for the styles they draw inspiration from is easily discerned on ‘Um’khonto’. While Michalski, Iwański, and Buhl lay down a meaty, throbbing bassline and punctuating syncopated rhythms, Ziołek and Jędrzejczak’s dense array of circling pads and stabs falls into the background, leaving just enough space for guests from South African trio Phelimuncasi to unleash a barrage of urgent rising and falling lines sung in Zulu, akin to those heard on their recent and highly recommended Nyege Nyege Tapes release Izigqinamba with Metal Preyers.

Tropicália pioneer Gilberto Gil coined the phrase “brutality garden” (from the 1968 song ‘Geléia Geral’) to express a dichotomy between natural abundance and state repression. Considering the suffocating social influence of the Catholic Church and the oppressive right-wing regime that ruled over Poland until recently, it’s unsurprising that Polish musicians find kinship with this idea and then seek liberation in music as distant from their own as possible.

Describing the sound of their ||ALA|MEDA|| adjacent duo T’ien Lai, Ziołek and Jędrzejczak thus came up with the term konk: “an Eastern European longing for rhythm, trance, and authentic feeling of community” that falls in love with the intricate structures, unpredictable syncopations and audacious sampling techniques found in Angola, Tanzania, South Africa, Mexico, and Portugal.

Ziołek and Jędrzejczak have both participated in a number of outstanding Warsaw outré projects of which Stara Rzeka, Innercity Ensemble, and Alameda 5 are likely most familiar to tQ readers. The aesthetic direction of their music evolved in lockstep with the wider changes that affected the Milieu L’Acéphale collective, whose krautrock, free jazz, drone, and musique concrète tendencies slowly turned into the firmer repeating patterns and colourful electronics of Brutality Garden.

Similar to T’ien Lai’s collaborations with Brazilian producer Crizin da Z.O. on Natury 02 and Ziołek’s solo album Virtual P. 02 under the Erva moniker, Phelimuncasi’s appearance feels like something more than a token gesture. They manage to develop a tangible connection even in the relatively short span of this single cut. While the relationship between European and African musicians here might still be a bit too one-sided for comfort, it opens possibilities for the future – perhaps informed by the generous approach towards African traditions nurtured by Piotr Dang Cichocki’s 1000HZ imprint.

Throughout the album, the combination of the organic, plump bass pulses, acoustic resonances produced by the myriad percussive elements, and lush electronic arrangements remains utterly enthralling, evoking an impromptu meeting between the Bugandan grooves of Nihiloxica and the Latin electro-rock of Meridian Brothers. On ‘Dom Os’, guest saxophonist Marek Pospieszalski lets loose a series of swirling, elastic licks that land on rapid polyrhythms and swelling, crunched synths, thrashing around briefly before getting buried in expansive textures and a proper house vamp.

Meanwhile, the old Alameda 5 style resurfaces on ‘Wir’, if only for a moment, as psy-trance boogaloo and saturated blasts retreat under a cluster of mushroom-laced, stabbing krautrock, before things grow grandiose again. In contrast to this visceral attack on the senses and despite the elevated tempo of its pulses, ‘Uchoko’ feels like a lazy summer afternoon spent on some Caribbean beach, drinking turquoise coloured cocktails while waves of bubbling notes, synth textures as bright as the sun, and the gentle rustle of shakers wash over you.

The closing two pieces, ‘Genet’ and ‘Murmur’, turn the heat back up, with swaying constructs composed of multilayered percussion, synth arpeggios, and filtered voices that bounce left to right, top to bottom across the stereo picture. Both feel locked in a constant crescendo – an energy buildup that ends in blissful release on a particularly sweaty concert night. In these final cathartic moments, the album embodies a sense of sheer elation that is kindred to the delight of dance music found in the sets of Sisso and Maiko and that hints at even greater things to come.

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