by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
Qwalia are a quartet making music in the most instinctive way possible. The four musicians have illustrious connections – headed by drummer Yusuf Ahmed, they also include Tal Janes (guitar and vocals), Ben Reed (bass) and Joseph Costi (keyboard), All have plenty of experience with ‘featured’ artists such as Frank Ocean, Jordan Rakei, Orlando Weeks and Hayden Thorpe – but this project represents a healthy artistic freedom dating back to the pandemic.
Setting up in a studio for two days in April 2021, they made recordings of pure improvisation, since distilled into an album of seven tracks.
What’s the music like?
The drum tracks do dictate the outcome on this album, but in a wholly musical way. Listen to The Trip, a fine opener whose percussion track is complemented by plush synth line – or the title track, which has an easy, low slung groove and good vocals. Meanwhile Electric Highway has a slightly staggered gait, whereas Haven’t You Heard is spacious, syncopated and with a chance for the keyboards to wig out. The initially woozy Waghera actually has animated vocals, while In Your Own Words becomes a thoughtful piano contemplation over thoughtful drums.
Fool Me Once is one of the best moments, a first track that has a catchy line but opens out nicely, with spacey keyboards
Does it all work?
Yes – the instinctive approach reaps dividends, and the music bursts with ideas. The drum lead from Ahmed is very strong, too.
Is it recommended?
Yes. Jazz and funk bases are safely covered, with a healthy amount of experimentation too.