Unearthing ‘what the truth sounds like’ is Ostinato Records’ enduring mission. This year we’ve already been introduced to the raw beauty of Capo Verde’s creole soul with the release from the Ano Nobo Quartet and now comes the label’s latest reveal direct from Port Sudan, Noori & His Dorpa Band with the release of Beja Power! Electric Soul & Brass From Sudan’s Red Sea Coast (available from June 24th).
As always with Ostinato treasures there is a back-story that needs repeating. On a trip to Khartoum in 2021 the label scrolled onto a video clip of the band on Sudanese Tik Tok and then tracked them down in their industrial port home on the Red Sea Coast. The Dorpa Band’s founder Noori plays a self- built, hybrid tambo-guitar, a welded wonder that combines a guitar neck he nabbed from the scrap heap with a traditional tambour lyre gifted from his father. It’s one of a kind, a focal point with a searing electric tone and the source of much of the energy that the six piece deliver but there’s more. Rippling hand formed polyrhythms, bumping bass anchorage and sax player Naji’s scorching horn lines all mesh tightly around Noori’s fluent fretwork to create the Dorpa Band sound.
What gives this distinctive music further depth and foundation is its roots. The Beja community and culture, whose history stretches back to ancient Egypt, has long been oppressed and suppressed. Their gold rich land in Eastern Sudan has proved too tempting for the powerful not to covet and control, so to this day their struggle for rights and recognition continues. Noori & His Dorpa Band’s music passionately celebrates this heritage, rejuvenating traditional songs and melodies alongside the wealth of multi-cultural influences that seep through the streets of their bustling port-city. That’s why on Beja Power you’ll catch surf guitar, soul, latin and even far eastern snatches as well as the more expected Tuareg/Ethiopian connections. Noori & His Dorpa band make instrumental music with provenance, which is proud and in its own way provocative ….and yes it absolutely rocks.
The album curtain raiser ‘Saagama’ wastes no time in engaging you with the band’s sonic engine. Noori naturally makes the opening statement on his bell-clear, full-toned tambo-guitar but before long the Dorpa Band rhythms sidle into the frame, the tight stitched hand drums and percussion easing the song into a gentle gallop. Both Noori and saxophonist Naji take the melody lines, each with different approaches to their interpretations. Where Noori brings a flourish to his solos with his curled notes and scurrying runs, Naji is less histrionic, crooning through his breathy sax voicing . They make for the perfect balance in a succulent piece of ethio –jazz that rolls with natural momentum and ends with an authentic Dick Dale tremolo twang.
‘Wondeeb’ builds on the same desert rock syncopation with the chiming rhythm guitar pushed to the fore and the percussion closing in on those infectious double time clicks. There’s a looser, live feel here with the whole band locking into one of those hypnotic repeated riffs at the close and reaching out to maybe gnawa/trance inflections. Talking of reference points, ‘Al Amal’ shows Noori & his Dorpa Band’s exceptional ability for drawing on a rag-bag of influences but still arriving at something coherent and captivating. It’s a number that skips along to an irresistible up-tempo ethio-skank while Noori’s crystalline surf-guitar sings out the melody before hunkering down to some serious hunched-in funk. Add in Naji’s soulful smoky tenor plus more snaking desert-rock twists and the track confirms that ‘Beja Power’ is likely to make waves.
What ‘Al Amal’ also demonstrates is the intricacy of the arrangements and the intuition of the musicians in the Dorpa Band. It’s intriguing to tune in closely and try to unpick how the interchanges within each composition are anticipated. Who picks up the riff, who leaves, where are the cues for the switching melodies or exploring new patterns? On the poised and stately ‘Qwal’, the traditional Beja melody gets passed from guitar to sax to bass, then played in unison in a complex interwoven exchange that seems to be determined by some beguiling inner code.
‘Beja Power’ is an album that also thrives on the less traditional and more left field. The sultry ballad ‘Jabana’ develops around finger picking guitar patterns that take on a distinctly prog feel. Noori’s tambo motifs, played with Gilmour-ish definition, seem to take on neo-classical overtones to contrast with the visceral flutter of Naji’s atmospheric sax. Then there’s the extraordinary closing track ‘Daleb’, an extended guitar piece that revolves around a jangling chord progression which snaps and surges determinedly while Noori’s lead lines wriggle free for moments of harmonic clarity. Somehow there’s aura of desert highway, west coast rock ghosting through the stark beauty of the composition and an otherworldly spirit hanging over the tune’s gentle decline.
It’s a fitting close to an album that carries more weight than you would expect. Yes it has all the rhythmic drive and energy, the hypnotic intensity and musical uplift that anyone could wish for but what Noori & His Dorpa Band also bring is an emotional depth born from hope and resilience. That is what fuels their music and what rests at the heart of ‘Beja Power’.
Get your copy of ‘Beja Power!’ by Noori & His Dorpa Band from your local record store or direct from: https://ostinatorecords.bandcamp.com/album/beja-power-electric-soul-brass-from-sudans-red-sea-coast