A monster of a song, “Timbuktu” by rising global bass rapper / group Alo Wala melds into all sorts of moods–calm, jumpy, even forlorn. Opening with a small percussive swirl of taps, jangles, and pings, the song suddenly stops: “Here we go/See me flow/’Round and ’round I go,” the project’s Chicago-born, Copenhagen-based vocalist Shivani Ahlowalia (aka Alo Wala) starts in her candied voice, hand claps and drum bangs circling under her. Strings and a cascade of muffled electronics then crash hard as she continues, “I rolled through Timbuktu a long long time ago, I got my people and fresh heat no matter where I go.”
As it turns out, Ahlowalia spent time in a different part of West Africa: Guinea-Bissau. It was there that she co-founded the country’s first quality recording studio. Prior to the professional Cobiana studio being built, Bissau-Guinean artists would need to travel to Lisbon or Paris for quality recording sessions, Ahlowalia says. “I worked very hard in particular on a project called Hip Hop Harmony,” a program that brought her to Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Mauritania and Morocco, to work with regional unification through hip-hop. After joining with tropical bass group Copia Doble Systema and VJ Mad Es to become a full band, Ahlowalia / Alo Wala toured India earlier this year, and went on to play shows in Morocco (at L’Boulevard Festival– more on this to come on Okayafrica) and Russia. This Monday, the group is set to release their debut EP, Cityboy, which closes with “Timbuktu.” Speaking on her connection to the Malian city the song takes its name from, Ahlowalia explained:
“It’s a common expression to say ‘from here to Timbuktu,’ Timbuktu referring to a place far away, almost intangible or impossible to arrive to. So what happens when you’ve been there to the impossible place so very far away? Where do you go from there? That’s what the tune is about. For me Timbuktu represents the turning point, where the journey becomes less about a destination, and more about knowing one’s self; the journey within.”
Listen to “Timbuktu” below. Alo Wala’s Cityboy is out November 10th via Enchufada.