Glasgow African Balafon Orchestra – Jungle Fever (track-by-track)

Chief Chebe of the Glasgow African Balafon Orchestra talks us through their debut album, Jungle Fever, track by track

Feature by Tallah Brash | 09 Oct 2020
  • Glasgow African Balafon Orchestra

More often than not these day, it feels like the world has quite literally turned on itself, and the future of music – one of the things that brings most people joy in life – is at risk. But without the arts, 2020 would have been even more miserable. Film, TV, books, art and music have quite literally been a lifeline for many who have struggled since the coronavirus pandemic hit earlier this year.

As autumn sets in and things look set to get even harder for many, the Glasgow African Balafon Orchestra (GABO) are here to provide a much-needed injection of vitamin D in musical form with their debut album, Jungle Fever. Recorded in the summer months at Glasgow's Dystopia Studios, Jungle Fever combines traditional West African, afrobeat, jazz and highlife rhythms with folk storytelling made relevant for a 2020 audience as it explores, in an upbeat and joyful manner, relatable stories of our shared humanity.

Suleman Chebe, aka Chief Chebe, "the founder of GABO, lead singer, lead xylophonist, senior percussionist, senior salesman, African historian, writer, bibliotherapist, orator, guide and senior folklorist," has kindly taken the time to talk us through Jungle Fever track-by-track. We hope you find as much joy in this record as we do.

"Ambatayala means everyone has problems. This song is an inspirational song sung by many people in everyday life scenarios in the Upper Volta Regions of Ghana and Burkina Faso, especially by the Dagaati and Sissala tribes. In many traditional settings, the phrase Ambatayala is used on both happy and sad occasions. In essence, everybody is entitled to their own interpretation of Ambatayala, and everyone has their own version of it.

"We cannot give up hope because of problems. We cannot stop dreaming because dreams are impossible to live without.

"The wisdom of Ambatayala: the glass that you see as half empty can also be seen as half full!"

"Co is a traditional coming of age story in Sissala Fawfaw tradition. This song is about three teenage girls who once went to the bush to look for ful – a traditional leaf for making medicinal soup. The three cousins got lost in the bush and became thirsty. They kept searching for water until they found a well. The older cousin Abaka tied a rope and held it for the younger cousin Abiba to go down the well and drink first. Then she helped Mariama to drink the water.

"When it was the turn for the two younger cousins to help their older cousin, they only held the rope until she got down before they dropped it and went home claiming they lost Abaka in the bush. Abaka spent the night in the well. It was late in the morning the next day when she heard somebody cutting a tree. Co is the sound of the axe, and anytime she hears the axe she shouts and calls from the well asking whoever it is out there to come to her rescue!

"The wisdom of Co is to pause sometimes and listen to the crying voices amongst us."

"Soulee is a song of spiritual meditation inspired by the folklorist’s tradition of communal healing through sharing musical spaces with endless possibilities. Soulee time in the Sissala traditional community is the time everyone is best appreciated as equal, where everyone can feel the acceleration and deceleration of the heartbeat.

"Legends of the village have it that on a late moonlit night when everybody gathers to celebrate the joy of music, everything that moves in the Fawfaw village can be hypnotised including the snakes, scorpions, the witches, the ghosts and the rest of the surrounding nature. Soulee is the music of endless tales, and it helps us to heal and appreciate the constant rhythm of nature through the limitless scale of Jang-da – an experience that is so true to the soul!

"The philosophy of Soulee is that those whose minds are up and down are neither all crazy nor mad. Sometimes the mind, like Soulee music, can go up and down to please the same soul."

"Dilimba is a traditional Sissala tale about true love and how far some are prepared to go when they are in love. The song is about a beautiful princess bewitched, or perhaps overcharmed, by the mesmerising magic of the chameleon who has the power to control rain. The problem is that there is another man – the lion – madly in love with the princess, an equally charming prince with an incredible wealth of influence.

"The story of Dilimba shows what can happen when two people are in love with the same woman and how far they are willing to go to get her.

"The wisdom of Dilimba: some true love stories have no endings!"

"Chafoogalo is the gossiping point in the village. They say he is imperfect. But Chafoogalo is saying that no one is perfect in this life and therefore those who are always busy pointing fingers at others must never forget that some of their own fingers point back to them!

"The wisdom of Chafoogalo: be careful of accusing others of what you are – or are not!"

Somebody Go
"Somebody Go was first composed by a traditional Sissala folk guitarist with a badaray guitar. Salia Ampuo was a master composer, dancer, choreographer and famous Sissala jazz musician, and he was the lead singer for the Sissala traditional band that I brought to tour Scotland in 2007. 

"Shortly after Salia returned from his trip to Scotland, he passed away on a farm outside his village of Wallembele.

"Salia and I made our first attempt to record this song in 2007. Over a decade later it is a great pleasure to release this song in the fond and best memories of a cherished friend/brother and one of the happiest souls I am so lucky to have met.

"The wisdom of Somebody Go: good people come and go!

 Jungle Fever
"Jungle Fever is an excellent example of how music can be a valuable roadmap of hope and perseverance in times of crisis. I began composing this song and this album over a decade ago following the death of my Grandmother in Ghana. Grandma Alima was and still is my best role model in life.

"After a short spell of spiritual and mental depression in Glasgow, I eventually discovered that the healing only starts when we stop doing nothing about grief. Writing, singing and telling stories about Grandma Alima’s amazing life, and some of the inspirational tales and songs she shared with me and others in Pulima about some of the great traditions of the past, helped me to heal and recover from the physical loss. Yes indeed. It has been the fond memories of my Grandma Alima’s endless love for the people and land of Nibino-tintay – the land of our ancestors – and her prediction of hope in the future that kept my soul alight at times my spirit, body and mind were in a dark place.

"The wisdom of Jungle Fever: Jungle Fever inspires us to believe that dreams are possible to have and live!"

Jungle Fever is out now, available to buy via Bandcamp; to find out more about the Glasgow African Balafon Orchestra head to: gabosounds.comFacebook or Instagram