What are these branches that Rocky Dawuni speaks, or rather sings about? You would probably, like me, be more accustomed to hearing it put differently—in fact in the obverse and thus: branches of the same root. But while that might sound more rational, it would just not be the same in spirit. The densely-textured music draws from many sources. The roots or the tree are the same and that means they are the mystical rhythms of Africa, but the branches spread far and wide in the hands of this very talented musician. I like to think that the album is like a very elegant railway system of linking folk rhythms of Ghana with Highlife, calypso and reggae and popular music from around the world. But to describe it as such gives it the impression of overcooking. In fact the whole project is a masterpiece of subtlety.
Rocky Dawuni’s take on the lineage of the hot and spicy vocal style, sees him summoning wailer-like tones and textures in his glorious tenor. His vocals float exquisitely over the thick instrumental textures: the sound of guitar-driven ensemble that in its turn adds a rich and not entirely predictable harmonic foundation. It is richly polyrhythmic. The surprises, when they come are extremely effective and none-too-discrete calypso and reggae-like riffs are sung with expressive and vaunted voice. There is a rugged and rumbling roistering bass line that underpins what sounds like a Ghanaian shout in “ Rock Your Soul” and the close-knit ensemble passages of the elegiac “Children of Abraham” develops from a single phrase in a deeply spiritual story. Other songs are heraldic in nature and narratives always soar like legendary birds in the sheltering sky.
Recent publicity of the album suggests that Rocky Dawuni is now at the pinnacle of his compositional and vocal powers. And while this is true, Branches of the Same Tree also suggests that he may scale even greater heights in the not-too-distant-future. But even if he never achieves anything better than this album, he has ample reason to be proud of what he has done right now. “Shine a Light is a superb opener—a joyous, dancing piece that absolutely engages you. It is followed somewhat later on by “The Sign” and “Butterfly” both mysterious ballad-edged songs with an ethereal feel. The instrumentalists—and the record has too many to name again—are thoughtful and hard-working and develop melodic soli when called upon to. “Nairobi” reminds me very much of Bob Marley, the late, great source of it all. Dawuni also continues to pour it on and ring in the changes in mood, structure and tempo, making for a constantly interesting programme.
The considerable degree of balance and integration of melody, harmony and rhythm, of composition, improvisation, of exploration, individuality and tradition is impressively maintained throughout. All in all, this is an album that has definitely been worth the wait from a musician and singer whose star is on the rise.
Track List: Shine a Light; Rock Your Soul; Black Star; African Thriller; Children of Abraham; We Never Stop; The Sign; Butterfly; Nairobi; Get Up Stand Up; Island Girl.
Personnel: Rocky Dawuni: lead vocals; Edward Dixon: drums(1, 3); Manas Itiene: drums (7, 10); Michael Hyde: keyboards (1, 2, 3, 6), drums (2), bass (3); Ronnie McQueen: bass (5, 6); CC Frank: drums (4); Rock Deadrick: drums (5, 6); Adam Topol: drums (8); Khalil Cummings: percussion (1); Sunday Olajuyin: percussion (4); Leon Mobley: percussion ( 7, 10,); Mark Sims: bass (1, 2, 10); Alhajy Ibrahim: bass (4), Synth Bass, keyboard overdubs (4); Tom Freund: bass, ukulele, guitars (8, 11), pump organ (11); John McKnight: keyboards (7, 10), guitars, trombone, rhythm, lead guitars (10), backing vocals (7, 10); Brian Jordan: guitars; Damon Aaron: guitars (3); Sam Wright: guitars (5); Tony Chin: guitars (6); Ackah Blay: rhythm guitar (4); Akwasi Dankwah: tenor guitar (4); John Papich: mandolin (1); Edward Osei Tutu: trumpet (4); Steve White: trumpet (7, 10); Emmanuel Ayeetey: trombone (4); Randall Fisher: saxophone (7, 10); DJ Drez: turntables (5); Anthony Brewster: backing vocals (1, 2, 5, 6, 11); Keyboard overdubs (2); Swan Montgomery: backing vocals (1); Ijeoma Njaka: backing vocals (3, 4, 7, 9, 10); Samini: guest vocals (3) ; Dessy D’Lauro: backing vocals (4); CC White: backing vocals (5); Kandace Lindsey: backing vocals (7); Swan Montgomery: (8); Kandace Lindsey: backing vocals (9, 10); Oneko Arika: dub poetry (9); Pharfar: rhythm instrumentation (9).