Rafiki Jazz – Saraba Sufiyana

Album Review | Konimusic | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5

Whenever all nine members of the Sheffield-based multi-cultural collective Rafiki Jazz line themselves up ready for action, there’s an immediate sense of the world united in music, with such iconic instruments as the steel drum, the tabla, the kora, the oud and the berimbau sitting side by side on stage, collectively representing the music of the Caribbean, India and West Africa, along with Arabic and Brazilian cultures; it’s almost like having all your world music requirements satisfied in one go.  Rafiki Jazz also boasts at least three very distinctive voices, each of which explore an array of diverse languages such as Urdu, Hebrew, Gaelic and English in a similar manner as the instruments explore their own individual sonic languages. Versed in a rich mixture of Sufi, Hebrew and Hindi, the voices of Sarah Yaseen, Avital Raz and Mina Salama steer such songs as “Su Jamfata” along with both passion and determination, whilst the instrumental prowess of the various musicians, including kora player Kadialy Kouyate, maintains this universal musical conversation throughout the album. 

Saraba Sufiyana, which translates as ‘Mystic Utopia’, consists of eight songs, each showcasing the collective’s extraordinary versatility, with one or two special appearances, such as established British folk luminaries Nancy Kerr, Sam Carter and Greg Russell, the Gaelic singer Kaitlin Ross and the throat singing of Juan Gabriel Gutierrez, that effectively broadens the musical landscape further, whilst breaking down barriers and borders with aplomb.  It’s such a tired notion when it comes to a genre we recognise as ‘World Music’, to see language as a barrier. In the case of Rafiki Jazz and the songs presented here, an understanding of those various languages is perhaps redundant; it’s the overall sound that really matters. Coming in at almost ten minutes, the album closer “My Heart My Home” is a triumph of empathy and unity, featuring a multitude of voices and vibrant instrumentation.

Choice Track: “Cajueiro” (NSV 487)