France, which is seriously selective about only elevating the best of its jazz singers, has been in a stew ever since young Beninoise-French singer Mina Agossi emerged from nightclubs to limelight. If her first albums were essentially trials of style, then Zaboum!! – Agossi’s lightly titled fourth release – sees everything in perfect placement.

Zaboum!! is poised on a cusp between trad greats and modern innovation. The smoky-voiced Agossi takes on songs by Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, even Jimi Hendrix, to give a flavour of her interpretative ability. But once on her own compositions, Agossi has a Björkish inventiveness. Birds sing on the title track; ‘Gypsy Boy’, so full of longing and menace, is opened right up by some aching violin; ‘Identity’ is spurred on by some dark electronic percussion.

Her four-strong band features bassist Alexandre Hiele with Bertrand Perrin and DD Williams’ staggering range of percussion, but it’s Agossi who is the revelation. Her intonations match the words: she really can ‘scratch the air’ to quote ‘2000 Bells’. And Ellington’s ‘Caravan’ gets a complete makeover, with Agossi taking the song off to Morocco and setting it free in the kasbah. As her voice moves into wild and slinky ad libs, a whole new journey is revealed.

mag cover This article is from the September 2005 issue of New Internationalist.
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