Polobi & the Gwo Ka Masters: Abri Cyclonique review – a fresh take on Guadeloupean music | Music

The artwork for Abri Cyclonique

The voice of 69-year-old Guadeloupean singer Moïse Polobi is a uniquely powerful presence. Deep, laden with heavy vibrato and rasping through yearning melody, his delivery has been honed through a lifetime spent with groups singing and playing gwo ka drum in unison in the forests near his home town of Petit-Bourg.

In 2020, an impromptu concert with local percussionist Klod Kiavué caught the attention of artistic director Valérie Malot and sparked the idea of Polobi’s solo debut. Produced by Mbongwana Star collaborator Doctor L, the result is Abri Cyclonique.

The artwork for Abri Cyclonique

Playing in a similar vein to dub producer Adrian Sherwood’s standout 2022 collaboration with singer Horace Andy, Midnight Rocker, Doctor L’s work on the album transposes a remarkable voice on to a musical backing embellished with electronic effects. Opener Kawmélito lets Polobi’s vocal power ring out through delay over a lopsided acoustic bassline and a smattering of snare drum brushes, turning his Creole song into a kind of freeform dub poetry.

The genre-bending continues: Nèg Africa places Polobi’s longing, ascending vocal line over a Cuban percussion rhythm and high-register guitars, while Ojéliya skitters over an Afrobeat funk. Okipayason sinks into a head-nodding dub rhythm and album highlight Mendémélé builds on a plaintive piano motif to create a trip-hop version of a gwo ka work song.

Throughout, the unwavering strength of Polobi’s baritone lends the genre-hopping a sense of coherence, rather than playing like an uneven pastiche. Although the traditional drum and vocal minimalism of gwo ka music is discarded, the embellished arrangements of Abri Cyclonique bring Polobi’s voice to a wider audience and showcase his dexterity, heralding a new talent born from a lifetime’s experience.

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