During the first minute of Bahir, the new album from multi-instrumentalist and producer Dexter Story, a steady beating drum crescendo slowly evolves into an intricate composition: traditional jazz pianos, classical strings, wind chimes and East African percussion playfully mingle with cymbals that almost sound like a rushing wind. The opening track, “Techawit,” feels like an introduction to Dexter Story’s brand new world — a place where the musician can toe the line between different dimensions, embracing the pull of history and tradition, while conjuring a new, seamless fusion between the old and the new.
This fusion forms the backbone of Bahir, an album which finds the Los Angeles-based artist absorbing the sounds acquired during his travels through East Africa, and then distilling them into his brand of refined folk and global rhythms. Across these songs, Ethiopian jazz, African psychedelic rock and funk, Sudanese dance rhythms, and Tuaregi grooves mingle with the jazz and folk traditions of the Americas. Perhaps that’s why the music Dexter Story has composed for Bahir feels celebratory: a meticulously crafted and beautiful record that rests on the art of collaboration.
Tracks like “Bila” (featuring the Ethiopian multi-instrumentalist Kibrom Birhane), and “Gold” (with a stellar vocal turn from Sudan Archives) sound larger than life: vibrant patchworks of Ethiopian soul, North Sudanese shaygiya dance rhythms, and funk, embroidered with contemporary soul and experimental jazz. These songs give way to a dub-influenced, piano-driven collaboration with Haile Supreme, a vocalist with a unique voice that mirrors North African singing techniques; and a spirited psychedelic jam, “Mamdoo.” There are moments of introspection, as well, such as the atmospheric title track, featuring Ethiopian electronic musician Endeguena Mulu (aka Ethiopian Records). As the album comes to an end, Dexter Story reminds us that Bahir is not only meant to represent the union of two worlds that are an ocean apart. Rather, it is a celebration of the soul and the spirituality one experiences whilst respectfully roaming the land, rediscovering its enchantments as they go.