Album Review : Dele Sosimi and The Estuary 21 – ‘The Confluence’ : The afrobeat alumni returns to guide and groove.

The Breakdown

As a celebration of Sosimi and producer Sam Duckworth's talents, this combined project sparkles with rejuvenation and enthusiasm. A record that has an immediate appeal.
Wah Wah 45s 8.7

Touchstone afrobeat musician Dele Sosimi teaming up with long standing indie songsmith Sam Duckworth (aka Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly) sounds like a longshot but that’s what’s happened. Sosimi’s new mini album ‘The Confluence’ is on the shelves via Wah Wah 45s and yes Duckworth is on production duties.

Except this is no quirky experiment, the two musicians have known each other since meeting at the 2012 Felabration festival, the annual musical commemoration of Fela Kuti’s mighty legacy held at The Shrine in Lagos state. Since then the pair have joined up to play live when their paths crossed until eventually in the post COVID creative surge, they made time to pool their ideas in the recording studio. ‘The Confluence’ is the result of this burst of sessions which sees Dele Sosimi joined by a pulsating band, The Estuary 21, assembled for the project from his own and Sam Duckworth’s musical networks. Featuring top players from both their groups and beyond (Sam Ewens/horns, Pete Fraser/sax.Callum Green/drums, Afla Sackey/percussion, Lizzy Dosunmu/vocals and Philip Van Den Brandeler/bass) this is a big band that slots into the project’s groove with energy and intuition. The Estuary 21 do more than complement they contribute.

But it’s Sosimi’s connection with his cape-wearing buddy that raises the musical stakes for ‘The Confluence’ recording and yes, it fulfils that potential. Naturally having lived in Fela Kuti’s commune as a youngster and graduated to play in the legend’s Egypt 80 collective as well as his son Femi’s Positive Force ensemble, Dele Sosimi brings a wealth of afrobeat integrity and invention to the partnership. Check any of his three previous solo albums and you’ll recognise that here is a real torchbearer of those seminal rhythms and powerful messages. On ‘The Confluence’ that remains the foundation but what Sam Duckworth inspires in this yin and yang relationship, is a freedom to merge wider jazz and pop currents into the flow.

The profound uplift of Mo Ṣe B’ọ́lá Tán first reveals the sound of this new tide. A song of determination and survival, this sultry soul blues stroll, blends shuffling hi-hat beats and warm toned horns with the fluent loop of earthy indie-pop i.e. Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. guitar. There’s a silky Lenny Kravitz vibe here made special by the rolling insistence of a fabulous vocal line. Equally as exquisite, the Cuban-jazz swing of Ride Out The Storm has Sosimi extolling a stoic commitment to ‘keeping my feet an d ground’ in his purring Manu Dibango deep vocal. Uncluttered and refreshingly restrained, the angled piano vamps, trickling vibes and restrained sax runs keep you very much onside.

Perhaps within all of this soundscape expansion, Open Up feels like the most definitive and maybe daring step on the record. Featuring upwardly mobile Essex song-smith Sam Eagle and Canvey’s legendary percussionist Snowboy it’s a track that defiantly lays back. Stepping closer to those soul jazz/r n’ b parameters, the rippling piano lines, sumptuous horns plus easy brush and bump of the beat develop the smoothest of flows. Add in a classy melodic hook that hints of late nineties pop and you have a song that can’t be readily ignored. ‘Oh we should have seen it coming’ is one of Sosimi’s observations on Open Up. Well. probably in this case it’s best to fez up and say no.

More expected but just as effective the afrobeat underpinnings share equal exposure on ‘The Confluence’. Opener E Si M’​è​dò takes that visceral Allen afrobeat and puts it out front. Loose and open, the close-knit horns and pulse-focused piano vamps keep up the momentum while the distinctive, roughened edge of Lizzy Dosunmu’s voice brings the mystery and emotion. Amidst the distant ethio-organ charm and the stark bass anchor, the repeated call and response between vocals and keyboard lines provide a real insistence in this celebration of chill power. Elsewhere Òt​í​tó Ti J​á​de uncurls to a stalking afrobeat that rolls on powerfully as the tight twinned vocal calls out to the ‘baddies’ and promises their downfall. Shooting between this steady rhythm, the horn blasts and Pete Fraser’s fiery sax add to the grit of what represents a low funk master class from Sosimi and his Estuary crew.

Perhaps more afro-jazz in outlook, the deeply personal album closer Ori Mi asserts itself with an advancing disco funk beat and pounding piano foundations. There’s an earthy energy stored in this song, from the flickering vibes and synth oscillations to the filmic horns and looping vocal lines. It’s orchestral in scale and stands as a fine conclusion to a record that has an immediate appeal. However ‘The Confluence’ also stretches beyond it’s obvious musical impact. Philosophical and forthright, Sosimi’s considerations of where we find ourselves now, both personally and as a society, add another dimension to the album. Presented with sage-like passion and persuasive candour, his word play has a bounce of its own, delivered with a flow that enriches the groove.

As a celebration of Duckworth and Sosimi’s talents, this combined project sparkles with rejuvenation and enthusiasm. The production and writing is crisp and dynamic with the tracks kept economic and focused. With little room for slack on what is essentially a mini album those hypnotic extended afrobeat jams consequently don’t feature. That’s not to say they are necessary but some of the gorgeous vibes that the Estuary 21 ensemble conjure up here might have reached even higher given a little more airtime. Maybe next time perhaps, because hopefully ‘The Confluence’ is an introduction to the possibilities that the Duckworth/Sosimi partnership opens up. Still whatever the future holds, for now we have a recording with its own strong identity, a musical statement that has real currency and undoubtedly connects.

Get your copy of ‘The Confluence’ by Dele Sosimi and The Estuary 21 from your local record shop or direct from Wah Wah 45s HERE

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