If the title of Faada Freddy’s first solo album, Gospel Journey, has to be taken as a promise, after listening at its eleven tracks one must admit that the Senegalese artist has more than kept his word.
The 40-year old founder of the rap crew Daara-J, leaving apart for a while his trademark hip-hop rhythms and his companions, just wanted – as he said – “to go towards something which would have brought me closer to gospel sound”, but, in fact, he did slightly more than this. Gospel, obviously, is part of the rich texture of Abdou Fatha Seck’s (the singer’s real name) songs, but there are many more influences to be found in them, starting with the artists and sounds he’s grown up with in Dakar, listening at the music his parents were fond of: spirituals, Motown soul, Marcus Miller, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday.
Their traces, many years later, can be found in Gospel journey, together with typical Senegalese chants, punk, folk and even Zulu choruses or New Zealand’s haka. A choice that arises out of a very specific concept of what music and its purposes are but also out of the artist’s own life. “All the peoples I’ve met with – he told a French magazine – left me something. That’s what I want to share, with a common basis, which is pop music, meaning to me ‘music of the people’, uniting and inspiring all cultures. That’s my goal, my reason for singing”.
The desire of turning this musical variety into something new and concrete is one of the reasons that pushed Freddy to leave temporarily Daara-J (but the release of a new album is already scheduled) and record an album on his own, after having played guitar alongside renowned artists, including the US star Lenny Kravitz. “I tried to bring more voices in the Daara-J albums, but in hip-hop, this isn’t easy. – he explained – My solo album allows me to use a larger palette, to perform freely in different styles, without limits, giving free reins to improvisation”.
Improvisation is a key concept when coming to Faada Freddy’s style. “Improvisation is always a part of it, and I want to keep it like this, for it means spontaneity”, he once told an interviewer. However, he added “refining what we do, presenting it well is also important: it’s like serving dressings alongside a well-made dish. That’s the reason why I try, together with my band, to improve in everything, and to find new things in my voice, or to discover myself again and also to work with other musicians”. This also explains – at least in part – why many of the eleven tracks of Gospel Journey are in fact cover of artists Freddy worked with or appreciated: Sia (who called the Senegalese performer’s rendition of Little Black Sandals, the best cover of her song) Imany, Grace, Lonely Forest… But the same attention to details can be found in Fatha Seck’s own compositions (such as Reality cuts me like a knife) or in Borom Bi, which already was a huge local success when it had been interpreted by the whole of Daara-J.
There is still another aspect of Freddy’s command of musical techniques that makes the album worth mentioning – and listening: despite he can play a number of instruments, including guitar and drums, he uses none of them throughout the whole album. His body and voice alone serve to this purpose: the Senegalese artist, in fact, is skilled in the use of both “body percussions” and beatboxing (using the voice as an instrument) and the eleven songs are exclusively performed in this way. To the singer, this is above all the fulfilment of a dream of his childhood, when he was too poor to buy any musical instrument and so he made them out of anything or used his hands and body instead. “I’ve always dreamed of composing an a capella album – he recalls now – I realized that not everyone can play a musical instrument but anyone can beat on his chest. It’s something you can pass on quickly, something I like and that makes me feel alive”. The reasons for using the body as a musical instrument, however, go well beyond the musical side, the artist adds: “It recalls the simplicity and greatness of a human being, the importance of the body. Humanity, nowadays is brought up through a violence destroying this body, which, nevertheless, can give birth to all the wonders of the world”. A concept which Gospel Journey manages to express at its best. (D.M.)