Sunday, January 18, 2009

Alex Wilson's Mali Latino

Please check out pianist Alex Wilson's new project, "Mali Latino". Not since the 2 seminal "Songhai" projects has there been such an exciting fusion of Griot/West African music and forms from the Spanish/Latin tradition. Alex is an amazing pianist and all around genius who has put out ambitious Latin and Jazz recordings in the past, but his versatility goes way beyond these categories. Now he is mixing the traditional griot music of West Africa with hot Afro-Cuban forms and Nuyorican salsa, with a jazzman's sense of swing and the sensitivity of an ethnomusicologist. He's collaborating with two fabulous musicians from Mali, Ahmed Fofana and Madou Sidiki Diabate, joined by another musician from Mali and two of Alex's UK-based band-mates, and they are all really cooking together in a fusion that seems like it just sprung whole from Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). Sounds to you like Africando, but it's not: it's a more organic, integrated approach, with equal weight given to the African part of the music, and from the looks of it, it's less glossy and commercial. There is a 3 part documentary ("First Steps") about the making of the 'Mali Latino' project - so please watch it if you are curious. I know I was - Alex never ceases to blow my mind with his wild juxtapositions and fresh ideas (I licensed some great music from him for 3 of my Rough Guide compilations over the last few years - RG to Salsa, RG to Salsa Clandestina, and RG to Latino Nuevo). He is currently looking for funding (a small group of investors) to make the studio recording of "Mali Latino," and perhaps a label to put it out. Anyone willing to help fund this incredible recording can contact him through his Alex Wilson website at:

The musicians on the video are :

Alex Wilson piano
Madou Sidiki Diabate kora
Ahmed Fofana balafon / guitar / flute
Michael Mondesir bass
Davide Giovannini drums/timbales
Will Fry congas

You can also listen to the beautiful track "Remercier Les Travailleurs" at that same site.
OK - that's it, just wanted to hip you to my man Alex. In case you don't know, he is a very creative man with his heart in the right place. I know the ancestors are smiling down on this project, the spirits of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Bronx, Mali, Senegal, and The Gambia are all dancing together. You can praise whoever, praise Allah, praise God, Yahweh, Buddha, Mohammed, praise Obatala, Chango, and Ochun, Mami Wata and all the Saints. or you can just say: well done.
Help this project get recorded if you can. Invest what you can afford. Go see Alex perform the music live if you are able this May in England.
DJ Bongohead

You can also support him now by buying his albums too:

Afro Saxon - 1998
An auspicious debut, I remember hearing this on the radio, on Amherst's WMUA (thanks to Glenn Seigel and Brandon Marger), and going: wait a minute, this is wild, this is different, all over the place. I got to check this dude out! A decade later I am still learning from Alex. ¡Gracias, maestro!

Anglo Cubano - 2000
A very CALIENTE record - before I knew Alex or anything about his artistic mission, I used to play the title track to this little disc, and a few others from it, at Latin Night when it was still at Bar 19 (before it moved to the Iron Horse),and the dancers went crazy, though they didn't know what hit 'em. I knew from then on that Alex was my man, was a force to be reckoned with, and that he was going to provide me with innovative salsa that would open people's minds but also keep them moving their feet on the dance floor. Was I wrong? No way. Read on...

R&B Latino - 2002
What I wrote about the title track:
I am not one to wallow in nostalgia, so it is typical for my set to move from the traditional to the ultra hip in a heartbeat in my DJ sets. The whole atmosphere of Latin dance parties in general is multi-generational, and in the US, often multi-ethnic. It was this multi-cultural ambiance of breaking down the barriers that appealed to me when I first began to DJ in New York in the late 80s, and that’s what attracted me to the local scene in my current digs. The futuristic fusions of the UK’s own Alex Wilson and his CD “R&B Latino” are equally attractive for their wide ranging experimentation, where electronic DJ effects, beat loops, and techno sounds mix with blasting analog trumpet, a hot jazzy piano solo, and authentic Cuban vocals. When describing this particular project, Alex put it this way: “…you have R&B loops, programmed by Craig David’s musical director Frank Tontoh, combined with Puerto Rican salsa, and also elements of [Los] Van-Van influenced music [i.e. songo] which put together provides the backdrop for R&B Latino.” By the age of 30, Alex had already played jazz piano with some of Britain’s best, among them Courtney Pine, Roberto Pla, and Gary Crosby's Nu-Troop. " I'd spent a year in Courtney Pine's band playing not only jazz but everything from drum'n'bass to hip-hop. After that I felt equipped to try something different.” Seems Wilson had been hearing records by people like Sisqo and Destiny's Child on the radio, and “was struck how much the drum programming borrows from the Caribbean." He goes on to say: "So there's a direct link to Latin music. Rhythmically r&b is very sparse and Latin music tends to be very busy. But they both fitted like a glove. I could have easily made another salsa piano album. Latin music is so seductive it sucks you in. But I wanted to create my own sound." When asked if he’s ever experienced any problems playing Latin as a non-Latino (a silly question because you don’t have to be an African-American to play jazz!), Wilson answers matter-of-factly: “As a mixed race, British/African with a complexion very similar to many Latinos, I have made a point of not pretending to be anything else other than myself — I hope this reflects in my playing and my music productions.”

Aventuras - 2005
This is a really heavy jazz album that I highly recommend. It has elements of Latin, African, Funk, and modern instrumental avant guard music. full of moments that are both lyrical and dark, mature but loose, natural yet sophisticated. As usual, Alex's piano is the backbone and shimmers through out. Some great vocals by Mary Pearce too. Pick it up today!

Inglaterra - 2007
What I wrote about the track "Oh Kuri" from the album Inglaterra:
Sometimes it takes a gifted visionary interpreter from outside a culture to bring fresh perspective into a tradition. The freedom to dispense with convention so as to produce rich re-interpretations often needs to come from a different but parallel place. Alex Wilson, born to British parents of Sierra Leone background, and raised in Africa, the UK, Switzerland, and Austria, is just that courageous person, inhabiting a special world that finds him comfortable in many modes of artistic expression. In one way his music reflects the cosmopolitan experience of living in one of the world’s great cities; in another way, it is evidence of a restless spirit that travels at will between the real and the imagined. And thank goodness his imagination never gets trampled by the realities being a struggling independent musician. On “Oh Kuri,” Señor Wilson hops several boundaries at once, but the leap of faith seems quite logical and feels very natural in the end: mixing Asian (specifically from the Indian Subcontinent) with Caribbean music has been done before (think eclectic Bollywood filmi music, or Trinidadian chutney, and of course the UK’s own bhangra), but not this way! It’s as if Willie Colon’s menacing herd of stampeding trombones rushed forth from the Bronx and collided straight into a wedding ceremony in New Delhi. Alex has teamed up with vituoso tabla player, composer and record producer Kuljit Bhamra, and Shahid Abbas Khan, a young vocalist “who is seriously going places,” to create a first: salsa dura bhangra. Bhamra is one of the most influential musicians working behind the scenes in British Asian music today. He has composed, produced and recorded more than 700 songs to date - many of which have been international hits on the Asian music circuit, some featured in popular movies such as Bhaji On The Beach. The lyrics of “Oh Kuri” describe the adoration of a girl's beauty - in a very pure (and non-suggestive) way. The song was originally entitled “Gee Sakde” before it was adapted to the bhangra-salsa format. But don’t categorize it too swiftly; like a lot of the music on this compilation, Alex Wilson’s albums defy niche parameters; suffice it to say this jam will get both salseros and Asian Underground dancers going. According to Alex, “I had been writing and pre-producing the song with Kuljit for some 6 months beforehand so everything was prepared. We put the four percussionists in the room and they [just] played! It took some meeting in the middle - salsa is a 'straighter' feel and the bhangra is very swingy/triplety, but the musicians were able to combine to make a unique sound. That moment when I went back into the control room to listen, I honestly felt like it was a very special moment! “Oh Kuri” fits very well into my music as a whole as my philosophy has always been to produce a flavor of Latin music that reflects where I come from - which is the exciting, open-minded, musical melting pot of London. I am also working with Kuljit on producing more Indian-Latin tracks with a possible launch concert/album next year.” Until then, savor the spice of “Oh Kuri” and be glad Alex is so fearless. - Pablo E. Yglesias for The World Music Network.

What I wrote about the track “Subelo”:
Inglaterra is London-based keyboardist Alex Wilson’s fifth release, and his most ambitious take on salsa to date. Colombian rapero MC Magico and the sexy Criolla provide the party vocals over the reggaetón beats, while Wilson and his brass players keep it real, blending tasty acoustic mambo licks with the programmed loops to form an organic whole. This style of salsatón has been popular in Puerto Rico and New York for a while now, but Wilson brings the dancehall flava full-circle to the UK in his own inimitable fashion. In a way Alex’s entry into the reggaetón market is a round about return to his roots because as a younger musician he played with West Indian saxophonist Courtney Pine and ska-boppers Jazz Jamaica.

Salsa Con Soul - 2008
One of DJ Bongohead's Top 10 Picks for 2008
What I wrote about Alex's new album, "Salsa Con Soul," for
"Alex Wilson’s new album has it all - hard driving salsa, funky Latin Soul, and modern fusions of Latin with gospel, r&b, Brazilian, and contemporary jazz flavors - plus great vocals (in Spanish and English) from multitalented guests and sizzling piano courtesy of the master, Alex Wilson. The two stomping Colombian themed salsa dura scorchers will blow you away; there is also a very tight and tasty instrumental salsa number that is perfect for dance lessons. No stranger to trying something new, in the past Alex collaborated with Jamaican and African musicians, as well as Cubans and South Americans, jazz players and a reggaeton artist. He has also created intriguing fusions of Nuyorican style salsa with Indian music (specifically bhangra), and worked with some hot young urban r&b producers to bring in electronic beats and diva vocals. This time around he tweaks the collaborations in favor more of gospel, and it’s an interesting mix, perhaps not one that you might have though of yourself – and that’s why we have the gifted Mr. Wilson! If you don’t know this African/British composer yet, this is a good place to start. Somehow, it all makes sense under Alex’s spirited, capable leadership, and though you will want to dance to the infectious uptempo numbers, you'll also want to listen deep to the mellower grooves, because this salsa has soul!"
Very highly recommended. (Pablo Yglesias, 2008-09-25)

Alex wilson, a man who's music is a gift to us all.