Ex-Centric Sound System as part of the Global Café Festival at the Distillery (55 Mill), Saturday (July 10), 9 pm. $10. 416-631-4311. smallworldmusic.com/global-cafe.htm Rating: NNNNN
No matter how small the world gets, how easily we pluck pieces of the foreign off television feeds or Google the unknown, there will always be things only experience can explain. Over the phone to New York, Ex-Centric Sound System's Yossi Fine and I have hit on a common understanding of one those experiences.
"In North America, in the West, most people have no idea what a sound system is," Fine observes. "They will never understand the celebrity that can be achieved in a place like Jamaica or Africa by a machine that amplifies sound. People will travel for days to experience the power of these sound systems."
People in the West don't think of listening to a stereo as a community experience. It's something we've learnt to do in relative isolation.
"It's alien to people in the developed world," he agrees. "Maybe it's because we have easy access to good sound systems. But mostly, I believe, it's because we almost never experience the pure power of sound, the way it can overpower you and strip away everything, leaving only the rhythm and the beat. To do that, to be overcome by sound and to share that with a community, is one of life's most real experiences."
That feeling is the reason Fine founded Ex-Centric Sound System. It's the effect he's been trying to lay to disc since his first sound system experience.
"The first time you stand next to a sound system truck at Trinidad's Carnival, it is unbelievable. On one truck alone, the amount of low-end sound, the number of speakers - it's huge. That's what I tried to bring to the new album."
West Nile Funk, Ex-Centric's second full-length, weds traditional African instruments (kpanlogo drums, kalimba, balafone, etc) and Ghanaian vocal styles with West Indian dub, Middle Eastern and Israeli accents and the propulsive beats of junglism. It's a shockingly intuitive blend of styles - less fusion than evolution. Fine's upbringing can be thanked for the musical tightrope walk.
Born in Paris to a West Indian singer and Israeli guitar player, Fine began playing guitar when he was four. At 16, he was playing professionally with some of Israel's top musicians. Early run-ins with dub and the earthy power of the low end inspired him to pick up the bass. As a bassist, he's played with Stanley Jordan, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Ruben Blades, Me'Shell NdegéOcello, Naughty by Nature and Gil Evans.
Ex-Centric came about as a collaboration between Fine and Ghanaian performer Nana Dadzie (flute, kalimba, traditional drums, bullhorn, vocals and dance). Later, Ghanaian vocalist Adevo Savour (traditional percussion, flutes and dance) and Moroccan/Israeli drummer Michael Avgil came aboard.
In New York, where he now lives, Fine has been known to spin at some of the city's top dance clubs. So the Ex-Centric sound isn't pale-faced referencing so much as a natural distillation of colliding musical forces. And Ex-Centric don't fall prey to the overproduced cleanness that hounds much African pop.
"I DJ a lot," Fine says. "When I play African pop or world music albums, they're often too soft on the beat and the sound is too neat. People don't stay on the dance floor.
"African instruments aren't perfectly tuned. They have a dirty sound that's a big part of the energy," Fine adds. "When that gets cleaned up, it kills part of the spirit. I protect that imperfection and speed it up. I'm trying to make the African music of tomorrow."
Ex-centric Sound System also follow a new model for independent music. The new album is only available at shows or by download from their Web site (www.ex-centric-sound. com).