Avalanche Kaito: the exhilarating combination of Burkina Faso born urban griot Kaito Winse and fellow experimentalists Belgian guitarist Nico Gitto and French drummer/producer Benjamin Chaval. This transnational avant-rock trio created waves with their visceral self-titled 2022 debut, bagging notable festival appearances (Supersonic, End of the Road), a KEXP session and much deserved critical and audience enthusiasm.
Their new album Talitakum, is deeper and more sonically varied, revealing an energy and spiritual weight that has undoubtedly emerged from the group’s incessant touring. The live shows are indeed revelatory, twisting and turning with an unexpected intensity and collectiveness. It is a arresting, shapeshifting sound that spins freely from ancient griot traditions to full-throttle thrash (with many stops in between).
Polyrhythmic futurism, raw epiphanies, Burkinabe parables.
A rattling ritual of ecstatic noise.
Jeff Nuttall’s 1968 polemic, Bomb Culture, lauds Dadaist Tristan Tzara as a main inspiration for the (atomic) countercultures of the 1950s and 1960s. According to Nuttall, Tzara ripped up the mores of the art world to invoke a new “cosmic identity” where “all things are seen as the part of the whole of existence and the whole is expressed in every part”. Things could now appear “as matter in cosmic terms,” and work as a “wonderful, rather than useful entity.” Both these ideas of deconstruction and reevaluation into new cosmic matter, however wildly expressed by the hedonistic Nuttall, mirror the music of transnational avant-rock trio, Avalanche Kaito. Avalanche Kaito are “driven by the desire for something new,” and see their own energies “as a show.” Their maelstrom of cosmic sound continually refocuses and reframes itself to an often startled audience, like fast-moving scenes on a cinema screen.
Another, less cosmic, link is worth noting. An unglamorous and often irascible man, Jeff Nuttall worked his countercultural magic from the provinces and on the more mundane fringes of swinging London. Similarly, one cannot help but see the businesslike Brussels as anything but exciting. But currently, the city is a magnet for many creative communities looking to reshape the world through new ideas and practices. Like Avalanche Kaito, who met there and used it as the base to develop their remarkable “borderland” music, a sound which suits a city where new socio-cultural forms emerge from previously unseen interzones.
According to drummer Benjamin Chaval, their music comes from “a sound, a sample, a desire, a feeling, or simply a lack of something.” And their second album, Talitakum, is the result of a Tzara-esque process, where “the whole” is, indeed, “expressed in every part.” whatever the provenance. To begin with, the band gigged as much as they could in 2021, the guitarist Nicco Gitto having replaced bassist Arnaud Paquotte, their fiery, mercurial shows becoming “a laboratory” in their own right. 2023 brought two creative residencies; where eight new pieces were sketched out. In July of that year the “aural puzzle” was recorded by Vincent Poujol at the Gam studio in the Belgian Ardennes. In contrast to what went before, there were no plans to rely on live recording, and overdubs were used extensively. Even so, the tracks were still very fresh, sometimes even non-existent: the track ‘Tanvusse’ began in the studio as a sample first heard in Niger. Other tracks like ‘Lago’ were brought to rehearsal as thoughtforms in the singer Kaito Winse’s head. Later, Benjamin Chaval assembled, arranged and further produced a body of work “that had to be tamed and reinvented” in concert.
Listening to Talitakum, one could be forgiven for thinking further about Tzara’s ideas; how do we really communicate with each other and what is the most effective way to do so? It’s a question that can hopefully never be fully answered. But we can note the new record’s title, Talitakum, means “Dead, come back to life!” (in Moore). Are the band unwittingly channeling the likes of Tzara and other old artists? Kaito Winse sometimes talks about his ancestors being there with him when he sings.
First impressions are driven by the different fusions thrown up between polyrhythms and polyphony: a notion of the constant reassembling of various musical building blocks. The opener ‘Borgo’ has a dissonant tone to it. Two minutes in and it’s by no means certain who will win out in this musical tug of war between voice, beat and instruments. All elements seem to burn themselves out eventually, living off the warmth of the energy created by their fight in a long meditative tail out.
The tracks on the album are informed by Kaito Winse’s voice and his use of a traditional flute and mouth bow. All three elements work, sometimes in tandem, as wider ciphers for communication, or “emotive” forms of mystification that inspire and unsettle. Throughout, Winse demonstrates what untapped powers many of us command, bodily; if only we knew how to use them. Alongside Winse, Nico Gitto (guitar) and Benjamin Chaval (drums, synths and electronics) work like mechanics, adding and updating elements to suit.
Winse’s streams of consciousness can dominate, and on tracks like ‘Lago’ and ‘Tanvusse’ it feels as if the music has been left to set the coordinates mapped out by the torrent of words and expressions. The listener does get some mental space – ‘Viima’ (which means Life in Moore) is a soothing if mysterious number. ‘Donle’ is on a similar journey to somewhere inside ourselves, and colored by some queasy organ sounds that could come from an early Tangerine Dream record. On the title track ‘Talitakum’ – possibly the most recognizable song (if we talk about traditional structures) we experience a question and answer session in quick time between vocals and instruments. Even so, the sound is soon broken up and redirected by Winse’s flute playing. ‘Lago’ throws up a lot of sonic bricolage that manages to work alongside a pulsating polyrhythmic beat.
In uncertain times artists embrace elements of chaos to reflect or react to what goes on in the world around them, creating other spaces that can give others relief. Talitakum is very much in this mold. Restless, sometimes discombobulating, it still manages to make sense and give succour. Tracks like ‘Shoya’ hop around, throwing out little passages of sound that can be digested separately, in nuggets. Their music also seems to answer questions for itself without any recourse to the listener, which can be a very refreshing thing to hear. In that way it feels like listening to Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. Last track ‘Machine (The Mill)’ is aptly named; this restless cut grinds out its message as an instrumental, one that comes at the listener from various start points. It could be an aural metaphor for the band’s music. Does Winse try to talk through his flute here? Maybe thinking that’s what is happening is enough. It should be clear by now that Talitakum is a shapeshifting, incredible record.