Marrying traditional Celtic melodies and instruments with West African traditional rhythms and modern musical stylings like Highlife and Afro-pop may not seem like the most natural idea. But in the hands of Baka Beyond
--a group that takes the term world fusion
seriously, as it's roughly split between Celtic and West African musicians--the combination makes for a delicious musical stew that goes down smoothly. It's been five years since the group's last album, and longtime fans who discovered the band through its hugely successful Spirit of the Forest
release in 1994 won't be disappointed. East to West
is probably the group's most accomplished work to date.
Founded by English guitarist Martin Cradick and singer Su Hart, who lived with the Baka pygmies in the rainforest along the Cameroon-Congo border in 1991, Baka Beyond stands out from a world fusion crowd that includes groups like Deep Forest and the Afro-Celt Sound System by delving a little deeper than most into both the African and Celtic roots of its music. On East to West, instead of dropping in the occasional sample for exotic effect, the group places the disparate elements together in a live context with thrilling results: "Awaya Baka," where a chorus sung by Baka children melds with Paddy Le Mercer's Celtic whistle amid a funky Highlife groove; "An Gwirder," where Nii Tagoe's West African balafon and Alan Burton's bagpipes, based on similar pentatonic scales, mix seamlessly; and "Wandering Spirit," which fuses two Scottish jigs with a traditional Baka dance rhythm. --Ezra Gale