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Brooklyn, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2015 | INDIE

Brooklyn, New York, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2015
Band World Jazz




"All about Jazz"

Multi-reed player Yacine Boulares has picked up, and left behind, musical footprints literally all around the world. He was born in North Africa (Tunisia) but grew up in Paris, where he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and jazz performance at the National Conservatory and New School for Jazz. As a Fulbright scholar, Boulares continued his musical studies and began his professional career in New York City, where he deeply connected with Cameroonian native JoJo Kuo & The Afrobeat Collective, Fela Kuti's drummer.

After a few groove-oriented jam sessions together, Boulares became a full-time member of Kuo's band. "There's a pocket to this music that is natural to Cameroonian players," Boulares once explained. "When you're playing with them, it's like sitting on the nose of a jet. There is drive that can push the whole band. That's the magic. When they play, everyone locks."

Boulares has since moved on but didn't leave Kuo's groove from Cameroon completely behind: It inspired him to form Ajoyo and compose this joyous, eponymous debut. Ajoyo builds around Boulares a truly global village: Bassist Fred Doumbe (Cameroon), guitarist Alon Albagli (Israel), percussionist Foluso Mimy (Barbados), saxophonist and co-producer Jacques Schwarz-Bart and drummers Guilhem Flouzat and Thierry Arpino (all from France), keyboardist Can Olgun (Germany), trumpeter Linton Smith (New Orleans), and Manhattan-based vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles.

Ajoyo makes clear that the organic whole of this music sounds greater than the sum of its still very enjoyable parts. While Boulares' saxophone flows as free and soft as water throughout his compositions, these songs are just as strongly blessed by Charles' immediately welcoming, soothing and comforting voice, and by the serpentine contributions of drummers Flouzat and Arpino. Boulares' saxophone blows "Chocot" hard and hot: It floats lightly, then turns to parry the percussion and rhythm sections (especially the splashing cymbals), then turns again to harmonize with other horns in an Afro-Cuban big band sound. Albagli's guitar solo pulls pan-global electric blues from "Idanwo," which weaves in another horn chart that sounds like the Earth, Wind & Fire horns out on safari.

"Sokeijo" throws down a riotous and multicolored African rhythmic party: Its ensemble horns blow the sparks from the snare drum and hot rhythm guitar into a raging instrumental fire, while saxophonists Boulares and Schwarz-Bart oddly suggest Sonny Rollins, angular where you'd expect them to curve and turning in when you expect them to go out.

"Houb Ouna" tranquilly rises from Charles' warm and sunny vocal like mist from the wet grass after a summer morning sun shower, repeating the beautiful last line of its chorus ("I will live for you, this is my vow") until it fades. "Benskin" evokes powerful emotions and images with African music that also reflects Boulares' jazz experiences, as bassist Doumbe grabs the entire ensemble and leads it back into the groove to greet Smith's trumpet solo in swing time. After Charles' voice returns to majestically oversee this tune's fading into sunset, it finally dawns who Ajoyo sounds like: Flora Purim and Airto Moreira if they came from Cameroon and not Brazil.

"This album tells the stories of resilience I have experienced in my personal life and around me," Boulares shares in his liner notes. "It is the fruit of a lifelong process that has led me to transform my deepest emotions into joy." - Chris Slawecki

"Black Grooves"

Truly representing world music, the members of Ajoyo herald from across the globe: Tunisia, France, Germany, and Israel. Originally the idea of French Tunisian saxophone player Yacine Boularès, the band’s debut album Ajoyo was funded through Indiegogo and is now available through Ropeadope. Boularès, though born in Tunisia, grew up in Paris and has composed and arranged music for musicians as diverse as Fela Kuti, drummer Jojo Kuo, Tabou Cambo, and Placido Domingo. Ajoyo reflects Boularès’ desire to mix the styles and instruments of Africa with those of the West. The result is an album that transcends the talented musicians and their technical skills to emulate pure joy and passion.
The first track, “Jekoro,” is full of energy, mixing African-influenced percussion and background vocals with horns and the smooth and powerful vocals of Sarah Elizabeth Charles. Singing “Nobody cares about tomorrow, no more fears or sorrow,” the lyrics implore you to be free and live life to the fullest. A short keyboard solo adds another dimension to the song, as it sounds more like an electronic synthesizer and further adds to the uniqueness of Ajoyo.
The song “Chocot’” is another lively track that exemplifies Boularès’ aim for the album: “play for dancers, put the groove first, connect with the heart.” This instrumental jam starts with the rocking guitar and keyboard of German pianist Can Olgun. It is certainly a song that inspires dancing, as seen in the live performance below. Showcasing the polished jazz skills of Ajoyo, it features solos by Boularès on soprano saxophone and New Orleans trumpet player Linton Smith.

“Idanwo” is a slower track that starts simply with vocals by Charles and guitar picking by Isreali musician Alon Albagli. Albagli shines on this song, with an extended soft rock solo, which adds a bit of an edge to the previously chill song. The shifting of tempos and moods is effortless and beautiful. Charles adds to this with her passionate vocal runs near the end, as do the vivacious horns (Smith on trumpet and Boularès on baritone sax) that end the track.
Ajoyo proves that beyond their high energy and talent, they can (and do) create moving music. “Benskin” is particularly powerful. Based on a Cameroonian dance rhythm, the lyrics address social injustice: “I long for the day / my color, my kind / my gender, my race / won’t trouble your mind.” The way the song ebbs and flows emphasizes these words, and though accompanied by full instrumentation, it concludes with just the bongos and Charles repeating those lyrics.
Ajoyo takes musicians and influences from across the globe and creates a jazz fusion album that leaves behind technical worries and embraces life and love fully. This is not to say that musicianship is thrown aside—in fact, these musicians prove themselves to be the best track after track. Ajoyo’s debut is full of energy and promise, and will hopefully allow them to make music for years to come.
Reviewed by Anna Polovick - Anna Polovick

"World Music Central"

Ajoyo is a superb new Afro-rooted band. Their debut album Ajoyo is one of the finest recordings in this category I’ve heard so far this year. Ajoyo mixes Cameroonian traditional rhythms with Afrobeat, soul and contemporary jazz.

The multinational band features artists from various parts of Africa, Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean and the United States. The music selection is varied, from call and response songs to beautifully composed instrumental sections.

The band les led by French multi-instrumentalist and composer Yacine Boulares . He recruited emerging jazz vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles, who crosses jazz, soul and Afrobeat boundaries with ease.

While I find many Afrobeat bands monotonous, Ajoyo goes far beyond Afrobeat, with extensive jazz excursions, featuring memorable multi-reed solos by Boulares and guitarist Alon Albagli who delivers a fabulous jazz fusion solo on ‘Idanwo.’

Boulares grew up in Paris, born in a family of Tunisian heritage. “It was a challenge for me to understand my Arabic heritage,” recalls Boulares. He traveled to Tunisia during summers to study Arabic and discover more of his heritage. He showcases that Tunisian influence on ‘Houb Ouna,’ a composition that blends Tunisian rhythms with sub-Saharan elements, following the path of slaves and migrants from the south to the north.

Thanks to a Fulbright scholarship he moved to New York, where he met influential Cameroonian drummer Jojo Kuo who encouraged him to combine Cameroonian beats with jazz. For the debut album, Boulares recruited Cameroonian bassist Fred Doumbe, New Orleans trumpeter Linton Smith, Barbadian percussionist Foluso Mimy, French drummer Guilhem Flouzat, Israeli guitarist Alon Albagli on guitar, Turkish-German keyboardist Can Olgun, and American vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles. Co-producer Jacques Schwarz-Bart contributes tenor sax on one piece.

Ajoyo is a splendid debut album by one of the most interesting new bands in the New York Afro-rooted world music scene. - Angel Romero

"Inside World Music"

The heady grooves and rhythms of Ajoyo's West African, jazz, and afro-beat inspired music with roots in Cameroon, Tunisia, France, and beyond. Spearheaded by Yacine Boulares with lead vocals coming from Sarah Elizabeth Charles and other vocals by Linton Smith and Alon Albagli. The rhythms and textures are created with the piano, rhodes, organ, percussion, bass, drums, sax, clarinet, udu, and others. The Cameroonian-influenced release is highly-contemporary and driven with diverse sounds and hypnotic lines that will keep anyone enthralled for a long time. Whether it is world jazz, bikutsi pop, afro-beat, or jam music, Ajoyo knows how to entertain us in creative ways without succumbing to pitfalls. ~ Matthew Forss - Matthew Forss

"All about Jazz"

The best recorded music is sometimes the result of life altering circumstances stimulating the creative impulses in receptive musicians, which then take the idea into the studio. By chance, multi-reed player and composer Yacine Boulares was turned on to the infectious rhythms of Cameroon, leading to the record Ajoyo, a delightful hybrid of expressive vocals highlighted by regional bikutsi and makossa tempos, with a strong dose of afro-beat thrown in for good measure.

Surrounding himself with an international cast of hand-picked accompanying musicians, Boulares composed a series of songs based around West African polyphonies leaning toward a jazz sensibility presented by featured vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles. Charles adds a silken charm to the music, and sets the tone with her inspired interpretations. From the accelerated pace of "Jekoro," to the sentimental "Idanwo," and into the percussive "Benskin," and "Tashikere," numbers, Charles displays a mastery of tempo and tone, and exhibits why she is a rising star in the jazz vocal realm.

The rest of the band also rises to the occasion on instrumentals and kicks into high gear on "Chocot," and fuels an afro-beat frenzy into "Soke Ijo." The real joy in this ensemble is how they flow seamlessly throughout the record in the true sense of an interconnected ensemble. Everyone played their role to perfection without stepping out of the projected concept. With a blend of European and African cross cultural players in the lineup, the music exudes sophistication, yet responds to a primordial pulse.

Having paid his dues in what he calls "math music," and playing by numbers, Boulares discovered himself in the wake of his experimental foray into African music, and came out the other side a renovated and inspired musician.Ajoyo represents an engaging synthesis of what is possible when positive and creative forces are allowed to develop and mature. - James Nadal





AJOYO is the vision of multi-reed player Yacine Boularès, a mystic brew blending African tradition, jazz and soul. More than music, it's a joyful ceremony, a fuller experience bringing musicians and audience close together. AJOYO chants in the name of Tony Allen, Oum Khalsoum, Charlie Parker and Donnie Hathaway. Stomping towards you in the eye of the dancer, arms open, horns, bell and bass interwoven like the fabric of a ceremonial dress, AJOYO speaks the language of the talking drum with a New York accent. 

Originally from Tunisia in North Africa, Yacine Boularès has played sax, composed and arranged music for Cameroonian musicians such as former Fela Kuti drummer Jojo Kuo, for the late Martino Atangana, for the Haitian Kompa legends Tabou Combo, and for Placido Domingo’s latest album Encanto Del Mar. The project originated in these encounters and influences, as Yacine assembled a band that reconciles his North African and Western heritages. 

 AJOYO celebrates life, love and justice through music: music for the heart, the mind and the body, the kind that is soulful, sophisticated and that makes people want to dance. 

Band Members