Since the 1970s, various corners of Africa have proven to be fertile fields for some truly pioneering electronic sounds—starting with the futuristic folk of Cameroonian modernist Francis Bebey, the cosmic synths of Nigerien Mamman Sani, and the groundbreaking soundtracks of Algerian Ahmed Malek. Today, the continent is home to countless home-grown electronic scenes, its sheer size and (in some cases) lack of infrastructure giving rise to idiosyncratic local styles rooted as much in traditional sounds as they are in the desire to experiment with whatever musical equipment and technology is at hand.
Isolation and limited infrastructure might go some way in explaining why someone making music as mind-blowing as Jantra has toiled in relative obscurity until now. He’s hailed as a hero within his own community but unknown even in broader Sudan. In his hometown of Gedarif, Jantra is known as the man behind the raucous “Jaglara” music, translated as “craziness,” the local sound which animates celebrations and gatherings for hours on end.
All Jantra needs to whip up listeners into a frenzy is his trusty Yamaha keyboard, which has been modified by the “keyboard mechanics” of Khartoum market to reflect the tone of Sudanese music. Rather than playing concerts in a traditional sense he freestyles his melodies, live-producing his music based on his audience’s reaction. His approach is raw and minimal, but with only a handful of elements he is able to weave bombastic and endlessly transportive tunes that swirl around and around in a feat of true audio hypnotism.
But when the team behind Ostinato Records—who have a track record of uncovering obscure sounds from the Horn of Africa, and most recently released the incredible Beja Power! by Noori & His Dorpa Band from the Port of Sudan—started working on a record of Jantra’s music, his improvisational flair presented a dilemma. How would they distill that spontaneous and unstructured intensity to make an album? The team followed him to his underground parties and Ostinato producer Janto Koité then combined excerpts from those sessions with his few old existing recordings.
Synthesized Sudan: Astro-Nubian Electronic Jaglara Dance Sounds from the Fashaga Underground captures the loose, live feel of Jantra’s performances, as each track locks into a solid groove and rides it to trance-inducing heights. Album opener “DarGoog” feels like a stolen snippet, a little preview of the force that’s about to be unleashed. The recording bleeds neatly into “Gedima,” which builds on a trippy web of whirring electronics and repetitive percussive riffs to create a lush, blissed-out tune. The serene joyful atmosphere carries through on “Makhafi,” a slow burner where celestial pads quickly give way to synths that snake their around a robust, looping traditional rhythm. Jantra’s music feels ecstatic and transcendental, and the reworked tracks fully convey the cathartic power of music and dance as a collective ritual.