Once I had listened to war chant, I immediately went online to find that 2015 album. Without a doubt, the seeds of War Chant were planted in their first album. AJOYO is an exciting band with exciting compositions and a brilliant take on what is happening in our world, specifically America, today. There is no doubt that they are putting oppression and greed in the crosshairs. They speak truth in the choking atmosphere of lies. And they do it with the amazing rhythms of Cameroon and the tight melodies and harmonies of Jazz.
The band itself is a fantastic collection of brilliant musicians and thinkers. The founder and bandleader is multi-reedist Yacine Boulares who is also the composer of all the tracks on the album, with the exception of the first track in which he shares co-writing credits with vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles. Jessie Fischer is the keyboardist and producer, Kyle Miles is the bassist, Michael Valeanu is the guitarist, and Philippe Lemm is the drummer.
War Chant is the opening track and is fitting as both album title and the introduction to everything that is to follow. Valeanu and Miles start off with staccato pops on guitar and bass and are joined with staggered rhythms of Lemm before Sarah delivers her vocals with power and meaning.
Make it great again
Was Never Great
To those of us who
Were not free
Can’t you see
Self pride is
You don’t have to be a political theorist to figure out who and where they are talking about. Don’t mistake this for preaching or hand-wringing hopefulness. This is what the title says it is—a war chant. It is inspiring. It is moving. And it is right on time. Each artist contributes masterful passages. Sarah’s soaring vocals are impassioned and thrilling.
The final refrain is
Sit on down
And give a listen
And it doesn’t stop there.
Invitation opens with a hard saxophone intro from Yacine before Sarah adds her beautiful vocals. The sax wafts in and out of the keyboards and that driving rhythm. By the end of this track, I knew that this is a band I have waiting for. There is no weak spot in the line-up and all of the compositions are the work of sheer genius.
Better Love follows and features Vuyo Sotashe on vocals with Sarah. Yacine gets in a cool and melancholy sax bit while the rhythm section is cooking with those Cameroonian beats. Fischer’s symphonic keyboards sounds like something conceived by Rick Wakeman as much as Chick Corea. Valeanu’s choppy guitar accents are excellent.
So melodic. So harmonic. So beautiful.
Assyko features Takuya Kuroda on trumpet. The piece starts of with the palmas clapping before rockish guitar starts in. The trumpet and sax are in great duet together and work some cool trades between them. Kuroda is an excellent guest for this track. But don’t lose sight of the rhythms that propel this piece. The construction of this song is fantastic. Don’t lose sight of the rhythms that propel this piece. The construction of this song is fantastic.
Syzygy is smoking hot. Joel Ross guests on vibraphone and it adds a spacey feel to the astronomical theme of the piece. Philippe Lemm on drums and Michael Valeanu are tight as you could ever want and they all turn this into a piece that Weather Report would be proud to claim. But, I admit, I missed Sarah’s vocals.
But Somber Joy brings her back and she is worth the wait. Yacine has that soulful, warm sax with the clapping underlying it all. Fischer has the wonderful keyboards support that punctuates the piece. Sarah moves from battle-cry to ballad beautifully.
JoJo’s Groove features Akie Bermiss on vocals with Sarah. Groove is right. Bermiss is powerful and he and the band offer up some bone-crushing funk for your pleasure. Valeanu gives us the crunchy guitar and he makes it work.
He continues with an acoustic introduction on Same. Then he turns on the electric guitar and is joined by Yacine’s exquisite soprano sax. Lemm’s nearly-military beat is perfect for the message of the struggle against uniformity, individuality within unity. Yacine’s sax is gorgeous.
Sleep starts with a hypnotic beat and droning echoes of bass and keyboards. The accented guitar and keyboard arpeggios create a techno atmosphere and Sarah’s vocals are like the elusive voices of a dream.
War Chant is a spiritual call-to-arms against oppression, greed, fear of others, and isolation—national and individual. AJOYO does it with grace and strength, intelligence and wit, and—most of all—a love and acceptance of who we are and who we should be.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl