The aliens – and Dakar musician, producer and all-round creative soothsayer Ibaaku – have landed
How would Dakar look if aliens had invaded it? Not perhaps the first question to enter one’s mind when thinking on Senegal’s capital but to Ibaaku, longstanding producer, radio host, multi-instrumentalist and creative connector, it was this very quandary that gave seed to his recent album Alien Cartoon. It’s a heady, kaleidoscopic concoction of samples, skittering breaks and beats, blown-out bass, re-pitched chants and vocal snatches. Elliptical loops weave in and out of time; themes haze out and creep back in, micro clicks scuttle and pan from one ear to the other. It’s dizzying, hypnotic and one hell of an audio ride.
“The project initially came from a collaboration with Selly Raby Kane,” Ibaaku explains of his friendship with the fashion designer. “We met through our collective, Les Petits Pierres, a group of artists who represent the more alternative side of Dakar. She was working on a collection and we found we shared some of the same influences.” For her AW14 collection Alien Cartoon, Kane turned Dakar’s old train station into an extra-terrestrial base, drawing visitors into an audiovisual space that was futuristic and surreal. Ibaaku’s challenge was to create an atmospheric soundtrack as immersed in the concept as Kane’s wild designs. “I envisioned the sound as if, when the aliens came to invade Dakar, they created a hybrid willing to join the two parts of the story. The sounds of the alien and the earth blend different styles. We really wanted to fuse African rhythms with new electronic sounds.” Kane – who Nataal interviewed last year (read the story here) - was suitably impressed with the results: “Ibaaku accomplished a surrealist feat by transforming fragmented, chaotic sounds into a harmonious and baffling opus. He is a brilliant spirit,” she says.
Ibaaku has been central to Dakar’s urban scene since the early 1990s. “Dakar really is a crossroads, it’s where a lot of people come to collaborate. It’s where information from the rest of the world enters Africa before it spreads throughout the continent.” With hip hop crew LZ3 he worked with and produced musicians from all over Africa. He’s contributed to Xuman and Keyti’s Journal Rappé, Senegal’s highly popular rapped TV news, and is one of the founding members of the group I Science. He also has his own line of headwear Djap Xap.
“Afrofuturism is the movement of the
present, it’s what Africa is right now. Not just
in music but fashion, photography and film”
The concept of ‘métissage’, the blending of cultures, races and ideas, has always been the catalyst that informs his creative output and vision for where Africa is headed. With the worldwide buzz on the ‘new’ Afrofuturist sounds, Ibaaku’s clear to tip his rather stylish hat as much to the past as to the today. “The future for me is mixing all types of sounds,” he states. “I’m proud to be part of that movement but African music has influenced other music for a really long time. For me, Afrofuturism is the movement of the present; it’s what Africa is right now. Not just in music but fashion, photography and film.” He’s quick to recommend several of his fellow musicians: “Sahad and The Natal Patchwork: they’re like the spiritual son of Fela Kuti, really sharp, really professional; WAM (Wakhart Music) a new label doing some great hip hop; and a really talented reggae artist called Ombre Zion,” he says.
“When I was producing Alien Cartoon I wasn’t thinking about Afrofuturism though. I was thinking about things I wanted to hear. I grew up with free jazz: from John Coltrane to Pharaoh Sanders to Sun Ra; they influenced the way I’ve express things for a long time.” Equally it’s as much about looking out to the world as looking in: “I’m really curious to see what music people are into all over the round. It was great to find out I was not the only one with my inspirations.”
And it seems the world’s looking back to Ibaaku. After the 2014 show, Ibaaku posted the music on Soundcloud, which then piqued the attention of Ghanaian label Akwaaba Music for a proper release earlier this year, drawing notable mentions from The Fader and Okayafrica. This summer he is performing at festivals in Paris, Brussels and Göteborg and there are more gigs to follow in the autumn. “The response to the shows has been great. I was really surprised by the feedback. Good energy, good people,” he smiles. “I first released my project independently, and being based in Dakar I didn’t know how people would respond to it. But I really wanted to release it properly. I thought: I have to do it. And I don’t want to have regrets.”
Ibaaku performs at Clandestino festival in Göteborg, Sweden on 28 July and at Nyege Nyege festival in Jinja, Uganda on 3 September.