FEATURES Supporting Ivory Coast’s Youth, One Collaboration At A Time By Megan Iacobini de Fazio · May 04, 2023

While many cross-cultural collaborations seek to find common ground and use perceived similarities as their foundation, Davorio reveals the dissonance that arises from the meeting between different musical cultures. “I tried to capture that collision and take a sort of sonic photograph of this journey,” says Samuele Strufaldi, the Italian composer, musician, and visual artist behind the record.

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Vinyl LP

The Davorio story begins in Florence in 2019, when djembe player Boris Pierrou invited Strufaldi to journey to his home village of Gohouo-Zagna, a Guéré village in the west of Ivory Coast.  “In our village, music and dance are part of everyday life. When a person is born, when a person dies, we play all day. We live music,” says Pierrou, who comes from a lineage of musicians and began playing the djembe at the age of seven. Strufaldi stayed in Ivory Coast for over a month, taking part in a traditional music seminar, working with local artists, and recording the everyday sounds of the village alongside his frequent collaborator, tabla player, and multi-percussionist Francesco Gherardi.

The material recorded during that trip forms the backbone of Davorio, a collaboration between Strufaldi, the musicians of Gohouo-Zagna, and the London-based label Música Macondo Records. The album blends Guéré percussion and song with brooding electronics, glitchy beats, jazz, and classical instrumentation, resulting in a sound that is both ethereal and organic, where transcendental and earthy moments are given equal weight. (All proceeds will go towards building a new library and community space in the village.)

“I started composing all the music during the COVID-19 lockdown, so by the end of 2020, I had finished writing, scoring, and arranging all the material. However, everything still revolves around the recordings made in Ivory Coast ,” says Strufaldi. The record does indeed feel deeply anchored to Gohouo-Zagna, especially thanks to the small vignettes and field recordings—a friend intoning a song on “Serpent,” a snippet of staticky radio on “Dohuò (Intro),” chatter and laughing on “Allokò”—scattered through the album.

“I conceived the album a bit like [Modest] Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a piano piece in which  a simple promenade represents the viewer walking through an exhibition, and then the movements represent the different paintings,” explains Strufaldi. “Here the interludes bring you back to the village, and then there are these tracks, which are these hybrid experiments in which my musical background collides with these sounds and creates these little fireworks, this mixing of different cultures: what I’ve always listened to, like jazz and classical, and what I perceived, and sometimes even misunderstood, about what I heard there.”

Across Davorio, small moments of miscomprehension become springboards for new musical ideas. “Abodan,” for example, builds upon a sample of percussion and song recorded in Gohouo-Zagna, over which Strufaldi composed a simple guitar refrain that swirls around itself and intertwines with the villagers’ voices. The guitar line is just slightly offbeat, infusing the track with improvisational, whimsical energy. “I wanted to preserve the freshness of the error and that feeling of not understanding each other,” explains Strufaldi.

Being immersed in Guéré culture and learning as much as possible about the music and traditions of Gohouo-Zagna was a central part of making the album for Strufaldi, who says the idea came from a need “to enrich my creative world through relations with other people and cultures.”

Guéré people belong to the much larger Kru ethnic group who live between Ivory Coast and Liberia, and their folk music is closely intertwined with their animist faith and celebrations. Pierrou, for example, began playing the djembe during the village’s masked ceremonies. “There are different types of masks: masks for justice, masks for blessings, masks for the harvest of cocoa and coffee,” he explains.

The significance of these masks works its way into the slow-burning “Tutte le cose dentro,” which blends Strufaldi’s brooding electronics with subtle field recordings and Pierrou’s  contemplative vocals. The lyrics tell the story of a rich man who, despite having everything he needs, feels a great emptiness. (The video, filmed in Florence’s Castello di Montauto featuring Alain Franck Nahi, a former first dancer for the national Ballet of the Ivory Coast, beautifully captures this duality.) Only when he finds and wears a traditional Ivorian mask does he feel whole, and the track explodes with an energetic djembe solo.

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

“There is this relationship with the divine that is ritualized and truly felt, a direct connection with the deities through these masks, and it serves to alleviate collective fears or neuroses. Music is woven into these rituals and into everyday life,” says Strufaldi.

It’s exactly the spiritual and social role of music that Davorio seeks to re-center. By incorporating music usually considered “elite” with casual moments of play, song, and storytelling, he removes it from its pedestal and brings it back to life. The closing track, “Dohuò,” features a man from Gohouo-Zagna recounting the village’s history, accompanied by a piece of chamber music. The sounds of the village are still audible on the field recording—people chatting, moving about—creating a seamless blend between this ethereal music and everyday life.

“For a long time, I’ve felt the need for music to have a social role, to bring people together. Through my work as a composer, I hope to create a benefit that goes beyond myself and breaks down the idea of art as solely elevating the individual, instead fostering a more inclusive and horizontal approach,” says Strufaldi.

The idea for Davorio was born with this in mind: shortly after traveling to Ivory Coast, Pierrou informed Strufaldi of his longtime plan to construct a library and community space for the villagers: “Many people from the village work on coffee and cocoa plantations, so this will be a space for their children to be together, learn, even play music,” explains Pierrou. In collaboration with the NGO Pêrmlay de Gozhou-Zagna, Strufaldi, and Música Macondo Records’ Tim Garcia set up a Go Fund Me which, alongside the proceeds from Davorio’s sales, will help fund the project. Pierrou hopes that such a space will help foster creativity and arts among the village’s children: “It will help them understand the rest of the world, and show them what can be achieved through music.”

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