As the tracks cross effortlessly between Afro-disco, grunge, no wave and jazz, the cohesive symbiotic relationship of the band members is obvious from the start. The powerful vocals of Guinean singer Falle Nioke are complemented by a wealth of talent from Graham Godfrey on drums, Steve Pringle on keys, Tom Dream on guitar and Josh Ludlow on bass.
Having moved to the UK from West Africa in 2018, Falle Nioke has recently been in the spotlight following the success of his Youkounkoun EP with Ghost Culture which was heavily supported by indie radio and BBC 6 Music playlisters. On Yagana, he continues to sing in a multitude of languages, but this time shifts towards a more organic musical direction, showcasing his incredible versatility as a vocalist.
This new path can be attributed to the pedigree of the rest of the group – veteran musicians Steve Pringle and Graham Godfrey are key members of Michael Kiwanuka’s band, the latter also performing with Little Simz, Cleo Sol and SAULT, among others.
Furthermore, Tom Dream and Josh Ludlow are electronic artists in their own right – with a number of artistic projects in the works, as well as having performed together as ambient duo Soma World. Both used to play in metal and grunge bands in earlier years, an influence which has made its way into Pigeon’s distinctive sound.
The Yagana EP is an emotionally-charged offering, exploring themes of lust, saudade, homesickness, and hope for peace. The title track ‘Yagana’ translates to “it’s been a while”, and though its up-tempo disco rhythm and wild synth solos lend a cheerful disposition, the lyrics describe a melancholic yearning for Africa. Nioke sings in Susu, Wolof and Malinke – as he describes the struggle of being separated from one’s family, as well as hustling to support them financially from afar.
As a teenager, Nioke would train his voice by the great river Rio Nunez in Boké, among the remnants of the slave trade, pathways and crumbling buildings being swallowed up by the forest. While most Western teenagers grew up with traditional pets, Nioke disclosed to his band members that his closest animal friend in West Africa was the pigeon – and so the name of the group was chosen.
Moving through the record, ‘Nothing Grows’ follows on from the Afro-disco opener, bringing down the tempo and intensity. The heavily swung jazz rhythm is driven by the drums, while soft guitar tremolo picking and synth pads produce a delicate atmosphere over which the singer mournfully longs for a lost love.
But having lured the listener into a meditative and pensive state in ‘Nothing Grows’, feathers are suddenly ruffled by the entrance of “It’s You” - a sultry story of burning desire. Channelling grunge and elements of no wave, the song is defined by a rumbling bass that pulses alongside the kick, while an atonal synth riff and fuzzy guitar licks provide the minimal melody. Piercing through it all is the hypnotic spoken word of Nioke, switching between French and English, as he beckons – and at times even demands - a lover to enter his room.
Finally, ‘War (Jam)’ returns the record to its 4x4 disco pace, featuring rapid-fire hats and high-pitched guitar riffs seemingly nodding to Mugithi, a genre often associated with political commentary. This concept is built upon with lyrics sung in Susu, as Nioke condemns wars around the world and their ongoing futility, pleading for people to unite and create a better place. Running just over 7 minutes, ‘War (Jam)’ is an improvised long take which continuously evolves, allowing each musician an opportunity to shine.
Recorded in a single weekend, Pigeon’s Yagana EP is a clear testament to each member’s skilfulness and varied experiences, creating a fully-fledged being that is greater than the sum of its parts. With an opening hand like this, we await with bated breath to see what more the humble Pigeon can bring to the world.