Over the last couple of years, Syracuse, NY-born and UK-based singer/songwriter and beatboxer Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate, the Guinea-born kora player have become JOVM mainstay artists for a sound that effortlessly meshes elements of traditional Western African folk music, hip-hop, singer/songwriter pop, reggae, and other genres. Driscoll’s and Kouyate’s solo work employ a similar aesthetic as they both use looping and effects pedals — and the duo’s collaboration can be traced to when the duo were introduced to each other during the 2010 Nuit Metis (Mixed Nights) Festival in Marseille, France. And interestingly enough, although Kouyate, as a native Guinean hails from a Francophone country and speaks very little English while Driscoll, as an American expat in the UK speaks no French, the duo quickly recognized an irresistible simpatico and decided that they needed to continue working together; essentially proving that the old adage of music being the universal language and transcending national borders is absolutely true.
Driscoll and Kouyate recruited a backing band, began to write material and then went on a critically and commercially successful 120 date tour across the European Union before going into the studio to record their debut effort together Faya, which was released to critical applause through Cumbacha Records back in 2014. And that shouldn’t be surprising as album singles “Passport,” and album title track “Faya,” possessed anthemic hooks and a warmly, infectious sincerity.
The duo’s recently released sophomore effort Monistic Theory and the album’s title is derived from the concept that reality is a unified whole and that all existing things can be ascribed to or described by a single unified concept or system. Now, earlier this year, I wrote about Monistic Theory‘s closing track, a breezy and funky instrumental cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’)”with Kouyate’s dexterous kora lines leading the song’s familiar and infectious melody.
The album’s latest single “Tokira” will further cement the duo’s reputation for crafting anthemic and sincere genre-meshing material that manages to be both spacious enough to allow room for Kouyate’s unhurried and gorgeous kora lines yet intimate and contemplative — while having a subtle, hip-hop influenced swagger. Check out the duo with their backing band performing the song on KEXP.
The album ends with a live, breezy and funky instrumental cover of one of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs ever “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” led by Kouyate’s dexterous playing on the kora, playing the familiar and beloved vocal melody of the song. Of course, there’s some great live footage of the duo with their backing band performing the song in Driscoll’s hometown.
Check out how Driscoll and Kouyate’s cover compares to Stevie Wonder’s original.