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Donné Roberts | Rhythm Was Born

Independent Release 10 Tracks

Positive Vibration
by Roger Humbert February 2006 (photo by Jenny Seo)
Rhythm is central to Donné Roberts’ musical expression. This is clearly apparent in Rhythm Was Born, his first solo CD since he arrived in Canada in 1999. He believes that all instruments in his band should contribute to and fit within the rhythm. Donné is a guitarist with very fine soloing abilities, but he always falls back to resume his part in the intricate weave of rhythm.

Born in Madagascar to a diplomat father, Donné Roberts spent much of his life in Russia. He came to the attention of a wider audience after earning a Juno Award for his contribution to the African Guitar Summit project. That CD featured two of Donné’s compositions.

In Rhythm Was Born, Donné Roberts offers us eight new original compositions as well as new arrangements of “Malembo” and “Sadebake”. The listener familiar with these two titles — first heard on the African Guitar Summit recording — will be struck by the solid new treatment they receive on Rhythm Was Born. With this CD, Donné Roberts proves that, as well as being a talented guitarist, he is also a sophisticated composer and arranger.

Produced and mixed by Todd Fraracci, Rhythm Was Born has an impeccable sound — full and crisp — a real pleasure. The music owes much of its richness to the band members Donné was able to bring together for this project. Three percussionists: Celina Carroll, Kofi Ackah, and Rakesh Tewari, together give form to the solid and ever present rhythmic core. Sean Donnelly on trumpet, samples, and loops rounds out the combo.

The music on Rhythm Was Born is firmly rooted in Donné’s Malagasy heritage. The people of Madagascar trace their lineage back to Indonesia by way of Africa and Australia. This journey spanned several centuries and shaped their rich cultural tradition.

In the course of his own journeying, Donné Roberts came in contact with many musical idioms: rock, blues, Russian folklore, aboriginal chants, reggae and funk. These all have found their way into Rhythm Was Born; often not in obvious ways.

One of the tracks, “Hira’N’Taolo”, features vocals by David Deleary (pow-wow vocal) and Nadjiwan (background chant). North American aboriginal chanting on a CD from a musician of African origins! — how intriguing! I know this is Toronto, a city rich in diverse ethnicities, but… In a recent conversation I asked Donné where he got the notion?

“When I was a boy in Madagascar, I listened to a radio program that often featured folk songs from Ampitambe, a village on the east coast of Madagascar, and I was fascinated with the peculiar chanting style I heard. This chanting stayed with me, haunting me. Later in my life, while listening to some Australian aboriginal chants, it flashed on me — the similarities! My people once inhabited Indonesia and this form of chanting is part of the baggage they carried with them when they departed. Now I live in Canada and once again I find very similar chants in the North-American aboriginal culture. So using the local aboriginal chanting rather than Malagasy chants I heard in my youth was not such a great leap. It feels like I am following a line, closing a circle.”

Donné Roberts

Throughout the CD, Donné sprinkles the music with some lovely, sophisticated Wawa pedal work. He admits that he learned much about this classic distortion pedal by listening to Junior Marvin of The Wailers. He asked me “Do you know Bob Marley’s Babylon By Bus?” I nodded. “Well, I transcribed and learned to play all of Marvins’ solos from that double LP”... Indeed.

In the final track of the CD, “Las”, a gentle ballad with flavours of old European folklore, we can hear some very fine fingerpicking by Donné on the acoustic guitar. Listening to this pretty song will also make you realize how impressive his vocal range is — from sharp tipped falsetto to deep cavernous tones.

I could not conclude this review better than by passing on to you some comments about the title track I received from a musician who has collaborated with Donné Roberts:

From: Paul Lamoureux, Producer, Musical Director, and Saxophonist

When Donné approached me to write out some bass lines for his new album for rehearsal purposes, I thought I knew what to expect, since I had prepared some basic chord charts for my band to play when we accompanied him on CBC French radio’s fundraising “Radiothon” in Toronto in November of last year (2005). Then I sat down and listened to “Rhythm Was Born”. That’s when I began to appreciate the subtle complexities of Donné’s music.

Different rhythms playing at the same time (polyrhythms), changes in tempo and meter that flowed from one to another while keeping the groove going, and melodic counterpoint that had me singing different parts in my sleep! He executes most of these devices on the guitar while singing a completely different part in one of many languages! I don’t know whether this kind of elegant musical multi-tasking is a result of his Madagascar roots, his general African origins, or his travels in Russia and throughout the world. I just know that I appreciate his music and his musicianship.

The real beauty of “Rhythm Was Born” is that you don’t have to know anything about music to enjoy it. The grooves are so buoyant, the harmonies so approachable, and the messages so universal that all you have to do is close your eyes and let yourself be moved.

The Musicians

Donné Roberts | guitars, bass, lead and background vocals
Celina Carroll
| background vocals, birambau, junkanoo drum, percussion
Kofi Ackah
| drum kit, congas, talking drum
Rakesh Tewari
| udu, tongue drum
Sean Donnelly
| samples and loops, trumpet
David Deleary
| pow-wow vocals (on Hira'N'Taolo)
| background chant (on Hira'N'Taolo)

We welcome your comments and feedback
Roger Humbert
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