Nature awakens with such graceful force on The Nile Project’s second album, Jinja. 15 musicians from 11 countries who drink from this magnificent waterbody alloy their sounds to make a passionate plea for this river. The Nile’s existence in critical, not only to the daily lives of the people of the countries through which it runs, but also forms a major component of their history and culture. And The Nile Project has so much fun reminding you of this fact.
Most musical projects that make use of a great number of musicians coming from different musical traditions, with their distinct sounds tend to be problematic and incoherent as it takes clinical coordination and chemistry to blend perfectly. However, the artists who form part of the broad collective known as The Nile Project have proven to be able to borrow carefully from each other as they did on their acclaimed debut live album Aswan. On Jinja, they take this uninhibited fusion, to the next level.
The 10 tracks on this tape which is just over an hour long are stretched out to allow the various elements to gel. “Tenseo”, by far the best song on the album begins with a spine-chilling folk lyrical verse, accompanied by patient flute notes that linger long enough to be memorable. The song then tolerantly brings in the strings and mellow percussions to further heighten the chilly and moody atmosphere it invokes as the core rhythm rides out till then end. This simple yet masterful piece of composition perfectly sums up the ethos of the group, which is its ability to blend a range of musical traditions as if they were woven from the exact same cultural fabric in one song.
The various regions, cultures and climates through which the Nile and its tributaries snake on their epic journey along the continent of Africa are well represented on Jinja. By recording with indigenous instruments like the Ugandan Adungu (harp) and Rwandan Enanga (harp zither) and the Egyptian Tabla and Riq (drum), the music also introduces listeners to this splendid range of authentic instruments. This further increases the appeal and accessibility of the album, making the sound resonate in the cultures in which it should be most relevant.
Indeed, the album’s linear notes vividly describe the many different intersections that grace the album. However, barely listening to the music alone is enough to give you a strong evaluation of the process as you feel the improvisation and the confluence of influence on songs like “Allah Baqy” and “Inganji”. This style of fusion mimics the Nile, which flows seamlessly and happily embraces all the water that enter it. The track list also follows this trend in resembling the muse with the early tracks having a strong north African sound and the latter tracks being more East African, just as the river looks on the map.
However, Jinja predominantly sounds North African as it appears that the core of the instrumentation involves Ethio-jazz and Egyptian folk elements. This does not lessen the impact of the album but highlights the direction the band took. Also, with three songs exceeding 8 minutes and the shorter tracks also lasting over 5 minutes, Jinja feel more drawn out that it should. Perhaps a more compact arrangement would have enhanced the directness of the tape.
Nevertheless, The Nile Project represents more than just music. This brilliant group of musicians are one part of a larger collective or artists, activists, students and intellectuals who have made it their mission to protect the waters of Africa’s greatest river. The Nile Project designs programing through which they attempt to achieve their goal of environmental consciousness and cross cultural collaborations . The music is one facet of this plan, yet it feels like the most accessible. This stellar body of work is empirical evidence of how different people can come together to achieve their collective goals, which is what the Nile Project dreams of.
Listening to Jinja awakens the listener to the range and power of east and north African musical styles, whilst empowering one to think more critically about the Nile River over calm, easy-going and relaxing fusion. You vicariously experience what it feels to be immersed into those glorious waters through patient yet rousing music.