AN ENGLISH rock guitarist and a Gambian griot met on a phone date – sounds like the set-up for a joke, but the punchline is a seamless meeting of contrasting cultures. Justin Adams, who has worked with the likes of Robert Plant, Jah Wobble, Tinariwen and Sinead O'Connor, was first introduced to the exuberant sounds of Juldeh Camara, a member of the griot caste of wandering minstrels, played live over the phone. Their subsequent pairing has produced two acclaimed albums.
In person, the splicing of Adams' bluesy playing with Camara's adaptable dexterity on the riti, a one-string fiddle, and his elastic vocals made for an effortless, often hypnotic hybrid. Adams would strike up an African riff, then drop in some rock'n'roll phrasing and Camara would skilfully roll with the changes, providing rapid-fire chants as well as a lightning natural facility on a number of stringed instruments. Accompanied by a drummer tapping on a tea chest, they also moved their focus eastwards, dipping into the meditative, minimalist mantras of the Saharan blues.
Their set was preceded by Speed Caravan's funky, frenetic fusion of traditional Arabic styles with western rock riffola and electro beats, led by frontman Mehdi Haddab on the electric oud and best realised in their turbo-charged cover of the Chemical Brothers' Galvanize, which highlighted the Moroccan roots of its sampled hookline.