Adriano Adewale might have been born into one of the world’s biggest urban sprawls (Sao Paulo) but his music is deeply rooted in a rural Africa and its offshoots around the world. The name of this debut album “Sementes” (meaning ‘seeds’ in Portuguese) is both apt and evocative. For me, the overwhelming feeling is a sense of organicness (the album feels like it has been nurtured rather than composed) and also a very natural acoustic quality to the recording. You can feel the hands of the musicians, not the producer or the technology. Nothing feels forced or out of place. It really is a beautiful, sumptuous, sound. The album’s artwork by Claire Curtis really sets the scene too using woodcuts and subtle natural painting. When Adriano selects his instruments for each track it’s with the surety of knowing the exact sound required. In our minds the interplay of wood, skin and seeds paints rippling landscapes of sound; I hear (or is it see?) stands of dry grass, bubbling rills, clattering rushes, dusty plains broken by smooth hills, distant forests washing up against purple-tinged mountains, diamond -crusted indigo skies, thick water-storing trees, cattle, villages, birds, rocks, paths that disappear into hollows, bleached bones, vibrant green shoots in red soil, men, women and children, generations of peoples, endless stories rooted in the earth.
Add the unmistakeable springs of musical water that burst forth from Kadialy Kouyate’s kora, Marcelo Andrade’s sometimes playful, sometimes mournful flute and saxes and Nathan Thomson’s fluid double bass and all these stories come to life. This is music that each can listen to and take something personal away from: each person their own landscapes, their own stories. This is just my overriding experience of this album. However, there are other voices here too. Virtuoso guitarist Antonio Forcione adds his talent to one track and the album’s producer, Gilad Atzmon adds his accordion and clarinet to various tracks also.
Adriano says that the album is a reflection of his surroundings, his experience of living in London, his childhood in Brazil, his friends. However, it also addresses his wider environmental concerns, issues of faith and also African-Brazilian and European identity. It is well known that after spending time in Africa he rid himself of his previous surname – Pinto – and decided to choose for himself something that better reflected who he was, who he wanted to be and so the two new surnames: Adewale (from the Yoruba culture of West Africa) and Ituana (from the indigenous language and cultures of Tupi-Guarani in central South America). Without interviewing him personally, I can’t tell how he approached each individual track, what the tunes mean to him personally, what his story is, but I can try and give my impressions; ultimately you must come up with your own.
The album starts off with the sprightly Sempre, featuring Adewale’s smile-inducing vocals (I’ve no idea what he’s saying, but it sounds uplifting!). Throughout the track (and the whole album) his drumming never dominates the whole sound of the band, even when he’s crashing around a whole variety of percussion instruments. It’s always the band and the album that come first, never “Look at me: I’m a Drummer”. Sign of a good bandleader in my book. Next is the serene, timeless Domingo featuring Kadialy Kouyate’s stately kora playing and, later, Marcelo Andrade’s flute (loving the subtle accordion and clarinet lines from Gilad Atzmon also) over an understated percussive figure and repeated bassline. Quite hypnotic.
Comboio has a more obvious Brazilian start with its bouncing surdo 2/4 beat, busy tarol (a rattly Brazilian snare drum) and martial reeds but then descends into something darker, Atzmon’s clarinet being particularly unsettling; maybe that’s city-life, I don’t know, but it ain’t for me! Family Album starts with the sound of Adewale calling out, as if to family, friends – nobody seems to answer. Has everyone gone away? Slowly kalimba, kora and flute start to speak into the space as other voices, whispers, ghosts maybe, appear from the thin air. Listen, make up your own story…
Assim is another of those musical soundscapes that makes you want to lay back in the shimmering heat, close your eyes and drift off down the river created by the crystalline kora and thick, pulsating double bass, whilst Adriano’s udu (clay drum) nudges at you like a huge fish and the zephyrs of Gilad’s clarinet spin you in circles, round and round, down the river, toward the horizon…
Passa Por Mim cracks along, driven by the peculiarly dry quality of the pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine played on the skin) over a jaunty flute melody. Telefone, in my ears, is a midnight jazz-tango – if not in rhythm, then in emotional tone; with Andrade’s soprano sax rising up into the air like a voice lifted in both love and lament – gorgeous! Beautifully underpinned by the rest of the band and with extra accompaniment from Atzmon’s lush, romantic accordion, as close as the warm, dark, pressing night. Encanto – has one of the catchiest melodies on the album, alto sax and clarinet uniting as one over Thomson’s throbbing bass-line and Kouyate’s kora. Adriano’s ‘old boss’, Antonio Forcione, contributes some wonderful guitar solos on this track which makes you wonder what they’d come up with if the guitar and kora were allowed to spar directly against each other. Sementes closes with a short track called Together, featuring Adewale on pipes (I think they are long bamboo tubes hit at the ends with a flat paddle to produce a percussive but quite eery sound almost like a giant guitar being plucked) and also Kadialy Kouyate’s vocalisations over soprano sax and Maasai flute from Thomson.
I’ve mentioned Thomson’s double bass which infuses the album with a warmth and presence similar to that found in the work of someone like Danny Thompson. But if you read the credits carefully you’ll notice that he also contributes standard flute, an alto flute and a Maasai Flute to the album, as well as Kalimba (thumb piano). At first the album felt ‘friendly’ to my ears, but didn’t leap out; with each fresh listening, I hear more and more layers and see more details in the landscape. Fresh horizons open up, I elaborate my stories. It gets deeper, richer. My recommendation? Buy the album, stay at home, go on a journey. Glyn Phillips