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Zansa | Djansa

album review by John Powell

Zansa | Djansa

Ashville, NC has a strange way of producing delicious West African music. Here, Zansa’s debut LP, Djansa is pure fun with a lot of heart. 33rd generation djembe player Adam Dembele leads the group, and the album is full of percussive punch. The guitar and bass are always moving, and the addition of violin is excellent.

“Tinge” sets the mood, with thundering rhythm and dance-friendly energy. The songs are sung in French, Bambara, and Baoule, with very little English. Here, for instance, “Wake up, wake up/ it’s time,” is sung in English as a little bridge between other verses.

“Cohco” is light on its feet, featuring violin and polyrhythms. The songs are catchy, even when the lyrics aren’t in a familiar language. Leave it to the simple arrangements and playful attitude. Adama’s voice isn’t stellar, but it’s passionate and it fits the vibe. He’s a master of ceremonies, really. Many of the songs have call and response type moments and otherwise Adama’s telling a story.

A key track is “Fama”, kneading blues and funk together. The mixing throughout the album is super organic, sounding like it was recorded live in a small venue. “Fama” is particularly open, a bit jammy, and narrative.

These songs are old traditionals reworked with modern instrumentation and style, so they do have an old time feel, and the violin increases a sense of barn dance, but things never get bluegrass-y. The sound stays true, and there are many subtle golden moments.

Anyone that enjoys music from the Ivory Coast, danceable, organic music, and an album to brighten your day, Zansa’s Djansa is a panacea for you. Extra points for a band that sounds loose and tight at once.

Bottom line: West African roots with contemporary limbs growing tall. This is great fusion and a whole lot of fun.


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