IROKO is a complex symbol in Yoruba lore – a troll that inhabits the top branches of a large hardwood tree called “The Throne of God,” which is guarded lest he comes to earth and drives men mad. But IROKO, the French Naïve label’s distinctive release by singer-bassist Avishai Cohen and conguero and vocalist Abraham Rodriguez Jr., brims with tasty grooves and has deep roots in esoteric religion and popular songs.
The album is the 20th for prodigious Israel- based composer-musician Cohen and the third project out front for Rodriguez, a self-described Nuyorican Babalawo priest, and doo-wop-bata rumba king, though his secret sauce can be heard on classic recordings such as Totico y Sus Rumberos, Cachimba Involvidable – Son Borincuba, Grupo Folklórico y Experimental Nuevayorquino, Deep Rumba and Michele Rosewoman’s New Yor-Uba, among others.
Iroko is the manifestation of Avishai Cohen’s dream “to do a project with his favorite Latin musicians in New York.” The concept began with Cohen and Rodriguez and culminated with the premier of the band in Paris with drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, trumpeter Diego Urcola, saxophonist Yosvany Terry, percussionist Jose Angel and Spanish singer Virginia Alves, a week at the Blue Note in New York, and dates at summer festivals.
“What attracted me at first to Abe’s music was its New York edge, Latin music swinging a little differently, which Abe embodies as a melting- pot musician. He’s created a language for himself out of R&B, Blues, Doowop, Jazz, Motown—a world of his own that I wanted to play bass in. From beginning to end, just conga, bass and vocals, and profoundly beautiful songs we could take apart and make our own. Now when I listen to the groove of it, I want to dance. The essence is there.”
“As Mongo Santamaria said, ‘Drum and chant,’” Abe adds. “That’s what we have here. It’s universal, and for everyone, young and old. Even those who are bitter, when they hear these songs, will be touched and smile. Those who are angry? We’ll kill them with kindness.”
On Iroko, Avishai Cohen and Abraham Rodriguez Jr. summon Yoruba gods, indelible melodies, and the bonds of brotherhood as a stand against the insanity that threatens us if we forget that our ultimate strength comes from creating beauty together.”
SOURCE: MANDEL, HOWARD – ARTIST NOTES: AVISHAI COHEN AND ABRAHAM RODRIGUEZ JR.