Once heard, a plucked ritti has a sound that is not easily forgotten – a low-frequency, one-note twang that, like the shuddering bass notes poured out by a dub sound system, go straight to the listener’s gut. Actually a one-stringed fiddle characteristic of West Africa, the ritti wielded by the Gambian griot Juldeh Camara on Soul Science does more than simply twang. Bowed, it sings wildly, sending out a melody that spirals into higher and higher tones.
Soul Science came about after Camara heard Desert Road, from British blues guitarist Justin Adams, the 2002 disc that put the fusion of West African proto-blues and Western electric guitar at its heart. Impressed by Adams’ feel for his material, Camara proposed that they develop their ideas in tandem and, here joined by percussionist Salah Dawson Miller and bassist Billy Fuller, is the vivacious result. As with Adams’ production on Tinariwen’s albums, Soul Science benefits from a deft underproduction. Acoustic and electric instruments assume a resonance that suggests the intimacy of a campfire performance. Opener ‘Yerro Mama’ is a hardcore ritti work, but after that the band go into sharing mode. Camara’s stratospheric vocals on ‘Nayo’, combining with raspy percussion and a cascade of electric overtones, are magnificent, while on ‘Ya Ta Kaaya’ Adams brings a shuffly punkishness into his blues equation with riffs reminiscent of The Clash. It’s no coincidence that the sleeve reproduces a stencilled photo of him looking like none other than Joe Strummer.Louise Gray