Mafou Imbues Senegalese Rhythms with Vigorous Electronics for “Evom”
The Somatic Rituals member and Elysia mainstay races from Basel to Bristol and beyond with the propulsive percussion on his newest club track.
In our newest content format, FWD Transmissions, we aim to support creatives in the aftermath of COVID-19 and to throw the spotlight on BIPOCs in the industry. Electronic Beats will commission a track from a producer and bespoke artwork from a visual artist, both to be debuted exclusively across our channels.
On “Evom,” Mafou creates a track undeniably primed for the club. “It really felt good to make something that reminds me of this feeling of being on the dancefloor,” the Basel-based producer and resident for the Swiss club Elysia explains. His intention is pure—to “just to make people dance and groove.” This goal is also strengthened by his Senegalese-Swiss roots, his relationship with the close-knit Somatic Rituals collective (of which he is one of the founders), and his constant search for sonic innovation.
Mafou - Evom
As far back as he can remember, Mafou has had rhythm coursing through his veins. His father, a Senegalese djembe teacher (whose alumni includes a certain Mukuna), encouraged him to maintain musical links with the country, feeding him a constant stream of mbalax, a catch-all term describing popular tunes from Senegal, stemming primarily from the traditional culture of the West African Serer people. In its contemporary iteration, mbalax draws from multiple international musical styles while maintaining sophisticated percussive sequences. It’s an approach Mafou personally embraces, citing inspiration from mbalax hits, African reggae, Led Zeppelin, and Guadeloupean rap, as well as European club sounds from artists like Bambounou, NSDOS, Valentino Mora (formerly known as French Fries), and all the ClekClekBoom alumni.
That being said, one of Mafou’s most salient references is music from the UK. In a recent Radio SRF Virus mix, he showcased Novelist’s London grime anthem “Endz” alongside angular techno and industrial beats. “I’m really just going towards sounds I like, and honestly, it’s the UK sound,” he says, all the while rhapsodizing about his newfound love for UK drill. In the production of “Evom,” however, Mafou draws from Bristol’s cutting edge grade of techno and bass. He cites his early exposure to Bristolian electronic music as coming from his fellow Somatic Rituals collective member Kombé. “Malik is the oldest of us, and he showed me Julio Bashmore,” he tells me, also mentioning Timedance head Batu as another major influence and collaborator. All of Mafou’s disparate references converge on his forthcoming EP Khezu, which is inspired by translating traditional Senegalese percussion into an electronic language, meanwhile exploring the significance of identity.
His FWD Transmission track gives us a hint of what’s to come. “Evom” commences with a complex percussion pattern that’s equally at home in a drum circle as in the club. As the momentum builds, the rhythmic elements playfully come and go, hiding and reappearing around the main kick. Gradually, a world of eerie bird tweets, shimmering stabs, and other shifting effects—sounds you can hear but can’t quite place—engulf the beat. These combined elements move towards a crescendo, spinning upwards into a fading summit, and then drop away to the thundering kick once more.
Ann Kern’s visual piece accompanying the track embodies Mafou and Somatic Rituals’ marriage of traditionalism and modernity, as evident in the contrasting textures between the hazy, monochrome figure in the background and the sharp, confrontational flashes of colour. She takes her inspiration from the “dynamics of dancing” of the Kankourang’s annual ceremony, an initiation rite native to the Senegambian region, in which the protagonist Kankourang wards off evil spirits by patrolling their village, leading the citizens in singing and dancing, as well as chasing the younger citizens through the streets. Kern’s piece taps into that feeling of “being chased, or being the chaser,” with the intense movement of the piece visualizing the Kankourang’s flight.
Mafou, and the rest of his collective, use their ancestral percussive prowess to form a fresh approach to club sounds; each fuse their own inherited beat with the established lineage of techno and bass, and rekindling the connection to the music’s Black beginnings. These innovations breathe new life into Basel, helping the city to foster fresh infrastructures and networks, and to create its own unique culture. In his musical development, Mafou is accustomed to looking past Basel, towards a distant world for inspiration. But now, thanks to him and his crew, Swiss locals searching for the same need not look further than home.
Kay Ferdinand is a London-born promoter, writer, and DJ known as baby k. He is a key member of Black Bandcamp, and a co-founder of Coop Audio.
Published September 25, 2020. Words by Kay Ferdinand, photos by Ann Kern.