Joyous and uplifting, the new album from Jon Toogood’s side project The Adults shows how liberating it can be when a western artist seeks fresh inspiration in the sounds of Africa.
As well as showcasing and celebrating the music of Sudan, Haja finds the Shihad frontman revelling in the unlikely role of a beatmaker, aided and abetted by some of the rising stars of New Zealand urban scene. The traditional Sudanese folk music form of Aghani-Al-Banat, which Toogood first heard in 2014 at his wedding ceremony in Khartoum, forms musical bedrock of the album, but Toogood blends its percussive rhythms and chants with funk and hip hop beats to create an exhilarating melange of exotic grooves.
Tracks such as the effervescent opener ‘Boomtown’ – featuring Chelsea Jade and Raisa Biza – and the jitter judder of Estère and JessB’s ‘Bloodline’ recall the early cultural collisions of M.I.A., while Sudanese-sung title track and ‘Like The Moon’ hark back to early world fusion projects like Brian Eno and David Byrne’s classic My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. The literal translation of Aghani-Al-Banat is ‘girls music’ so most of the vocals are handled by female artists, although Kings takes the lead on the brooding ‘Take It On The Chin’, while Toogood himself steps up to the mic on the album closer ‘Gisma’, a heartfelt love song for his wife and child. Haja is likely to be viewed with some suspicion by his old school fans, so it will be interesting to see if this rhythmic rejuvenation is translated to the next Shihad album.