With musicians from three different continents it is hardly surprising that, Bristol based group, Baraka’s musical influences reach around the globe as they skillfully blend music from West African highlife and South African township with Caribbean calypso, soca and reggae to produce a unique and exciting mix of polyphonic rhythms, soaring melodies and funky dance grooves.
After headling at Nyodema’s Festival in 2008, they were such a hit with the audience that when Baraka asked to return the following year we responded with a resounding ‘Yes!’. This year kora player and percussionist, Mamadou Cissoko, joined them on stage adding even greater depth and energy to their wonderful music.
Their line-up includes Ben Baddoo on vocals, percussion and balafon. Ben started drumming with his older brothers when he was six in his home village of Nsakina in Ghana. At 17 he joined a professional drum and dance troupe and went on to form his own group, Sankofa, with whom he toured all over Ghana. In the 1980’s, after being discovered by a UK promoter, they became one of the first exponents of African drum and dance in the UK. Ben is now a highly respected session player, having worked with artists as diverse as Vangellis, Peter Gabriel and Temple of Sound. He is also well known for his drum and dance workshops, which he has held in festivals around the world as well as in UK schools and colleges. A solo drum track that he recorded for the Womad Talking Book CD is now part of the UK Schools curriculum.
Guitarist, Simwinji Zeko, spent many years performing and recording throughout Zambia and South Africa before moving to Europe. He now lives in the UK and plays with a number of bands including Baraka.
Baraka’s drummer, Mark Bradley, was born in Belfast and his first taste of music was drumming in punk bands as a teenager. He has lived in the UK for 20 years and has played (and still does) with numerous bands covering a wide variety of musical genres.
Royston Gage on bass guitar and vocals brings the sounds of The Caribbean to the group having played with soca and reggae bands in his homeland of the Commonwealth of Dominica before moving to the UK. Other early musical experiences include hanging out with Led Zeppelin when they used his band’s rehearsal room on the island!
Saxophonist, Brendan Whitmore comes from Carlow, Eire. He discovered world music through reggae, having been a founder member of Bristol’s first and foremost reggae band Talisman with whom he has enjoyed numerous TV appearances, chart success and played on the same stage as the Rolling Stones.
Senegalese Kora player, Mamadou Cissoko, spends much of his time running workshops and story telling as a solo artist. He doesn’t usually play with a band but he particularly likes Baraka’s music and ethics so when available he’s only too happy to join Baraka as a guest artist.
With such a wealth of experience to draw on it is no wonder that they are now delighting audiences the length and breadth of Britain, as well as mainland Europe and Ireland with their exciting blend of world music. Every time I see them I find it impossible to sit down, even if I’ve been on my feet all day running a festival, I just have to get up and dance!
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