Skip 'Little Axe' McDonald and Daby Touré have recorded a mini-album together, with Keith LeBlanc on drums. The record is called 'Call My Name' and will be released in March 2009.
As soon as they met, they knew each other. Daby Touré: a thirty-something musician raised in Mauritania, West Africa, currently a leading light on the Paris, France scene. Skip McDonald: an old school African American bluesman from Dayton, Ohio, long time resident of London, England. And having met and jammed one summer’s night at Real World they kept on meeting and jamming at festivals around the world.
For both men this was more than mere coincidence. Given the way they played together, the way their music flowed organically, spontaneously – hey, even psychically – it seemed like fate. Destiny. A sign.
“We just had this immediate musical connection,” says McDonald, eyes twinkling. “In the way our instruments and voices combined. In the things we sing about and the emotions we put into our songs. To meet a brother like this…” He shakes his head. “It’s a rare, rare thing.”
Welcome, then, to Call My Name. A 6-track mini-album that captures the magic of this unique creative union, that sees songs – some by Touré, others by McDonald – transformed via imaginative, instinctive collaboration. Crafted in Real World Studio’s state-of-the-art Big Room with the aid of in-house engineer Greg Freeman, Call My Name is a spellbinding record, the superlative result of focused energy, creative license and a famously pressure-free environment.
The sound, for the most part, is pop. Compelling and catchy. Direct and frills-free. But pop unlike anything else you’ve heard before. “I sing what I feel, in whatever language I feel like singing it,” says Touré, whose lyrics embrace the personal and political in an often improvised mix of English and different African languages: Wolof, Pulaar and Hassaniya among them. “Skip would play me a rhythm and quickly establish a groove, the way a traditional musician from Mauritania or Senegal does. It’s a natural thing,” he adds. “It just happens.”
Being children of Africa helps, of course. “We’ve both got roots in the Motherland,” notes McDonald, the son of a blues guitarist who used to lull his son to sleep with bedtime songs instead of stories. “We’ve both ended up somewhere else. So we’ve got African/French culture. African American/English culture. We’ve got the blues combining with African music - which makes sense, since they’re relatives – as well as our huge range of influences. So we’re going in and out of Africa,” he says, “which is where all music comes from anyway.”
As front man for 21st Century blues project Little Axe – whose lauded albums for Real World include Champagne and Grits, Stone Cold Ohio and the forthcoming Bought For A Dollar, Sold For a Dime – McDonald has often likened himself to an archaeologist, ploughing the roots of American blues. “I’ve worked with a helluva lot of different people over the years,” he says. “Everyone has their own skills, their own way of doing things. I’ve gone from gospel to funk to reggae and dub, taking the tones and feelings of the old blues and putting today’s stamp on it. But this? This is new territory.”
Daby Touré might be viewed as an explorer, forever seeking fresh sounds and innovative ways of applying them. “All the music I picked up when I was young is still in me and that doesn’t change,” says this urbane singer/songwriter, a long-time jazz experimentalist and member of a musical dynasty forged on the banks of the Senegal River – and the artist behind the acclaimed Real World albums Diam and Stereo Spirit. “But in my music I am still searching, and mixing, and trying new things. I am African but I am also European.” A Gallic shrug. “I am a modern artist.”
What began as a simple exchange of songs – with McDonald playing on Touré’s compositions, and Touré playing on McDonald’s – quickly evolved into something closer, more symbiotic. Ideas blossomed, encouraged by mutual trust and respect. Both artists knew instinctively when to step in and when to step back, when to fill space and when to let it be.
Regardless of origin, each of Call My Name’s 6 tracks highlight the interplay between McDonald’s weighty guitar grooves and Touré’s lighter, more freewheeling musicality. Each track features McDonald’s resonant English language vocals and the younger man’s gloriously agile multilingual singing, along with delicate electronic flourishes and a vibrant immediacy.
Call My Name’s superb opener, Past Time – a slice of pop perfection sprinkled with echo effects, background incantations and heartfelt sentiments – makes it clear that the world of McDonald and Touré is an exceptional one. Here are covers of such Little Axe classics as Time Has Come, reinvented with sparkling chord progressions and a fresh live feel; and the epic Sinners, wrapped in shimmering guitars and thundering congas and underlined with Touré’s griot-like wail.
“Daby and I are singing about the wider world as we look out from our new, different one,” says McDonald. “There’s some weariness, some sadness and some happiness there. We’re reiterating things that still need saying today. We’re lamenting certain situations. We’re also giving thanks.”