ARTIST: JUSTIN ADAMS
AND JULDEH CAMARA

TITLE: SOUL SCIENCE

LABEL: HARMONIA MUNDI WORLD VILLAGE 468076

By Barry Smiler

Soul ScienceSoul Science is what happens when you mix a British electric blues guitar dude, best known for pop/rock work with Robert Plant's post-Led Zep solo band, with a Gambian rifti (one-string fiddle) hotshot who's a griot from Africa but clearly conversant with mainstream Western tunes. Unobtrusive bass and percussion fills in the picture. The vibe is African, yet the supporting undercurrent is easily accessible Western-familiar pop blues. Nice stuff, well worth a listen.

I suppose you'd call this "fusion music." Fusion music is seen as a separate category, but really, it's not. In fact, it's all there is, anywhere. Face it, all the best musicians listen to anything they can wrap their little ears around, and always have. Somebody hears something good, goes all like wow that's cool, and suddenly they incorporate those licks and sounds into whatever they do. No news there, it's how music has always grown and cross-pollinated, but nowadays there isn't a musical tradition anywhere in the world that isn't available to everyone else. So stylistic fusions are ever more common, even for the most esoteric genres. The first time I heard a backbeat behind Irish tunes I was blown away. Nowadays of course that's utterly unremarkable to the point of boredom; it's yesterday's mashup. What have you fused for me lately? Recently I got to hear an old friend play Galician bagpipes in a band with accordion, bass and drums. (And the bass player is best known for his mountain dulcimer work...!) I enjoyed how it impinged on my brain from so many perspectives. But not once did I consider the fusion of all these traditions as in any way remarkable. They wanted to do something cool, and they did. Good on ‘em.

Because in the end, it's about the music, and all music is fusion. The creativity of any musician is really nothing more or nothing less than the particular fusion of influences in that musician's head. It's what makes all this fun in the first place.

One thing I can certainly say about the fusion of Soul Science is that these guys clearly know their stuff. So often, the difference between making this kind of thing work and falling disastrously on your face is how well the musicians appreciate the musical traditions they're melding together. It's beautifully obvious that Adams and Camara know whereof they jam, with deep roots in their various musical cultures.

I had a great time teasing apart the various influences that Adams and Camara draw on. The Soul Science schtick is that Adams backs up Camara's African framework with his encyclopedic familiarity with the full range of Western urban blues. It's fun seeing what pops up. For example, just try listening to their tune Naafigi without being reminded of the blues classic Baby Please Don't Go. Another example is Adams' brilliant backing of Yo Ta Kaaya with the kind of guitar riffing Bo Diddley made famous. It comes off kind of like Buddy Holly singing Not Fade Away in Mandinkan. Wild stuff.

I have to say one thing, though, about what this isn't. Some may listen to Soul Science and say how it "proves" that blues is purely African. "See? Bo Diddley played African music!" Uh, no. Saying that would be doing a great disservice to Adams' and Camara's slick insight into how nicely Western blues textures could be married to Gambian melodies. Adams and Camara get full credit here for combining these divergent backgrounds into a compellingly interesting whole.

Certainly, African-American music has (some of its) roots in African music. But acknowledging common ancestry hardly explains the genius of Big Joe Williams, or Bo Diddley ... or of Adams and Camara, and the work they have created here. Adams' brilliant blues-infused guitar, and Camara's rifti riffs often hauntingly reminiscent of Papa John Creech wailing with the Airplane, have together created something unique and really quite lovely.

There's a nice YouTube of Adams and Camara at

which is a nice introduction to Soul Science. On the YouTube their interaction is clearer, you can see who is doing what. I found that illuminating. Maybe you will too. In any case, check these guys out. Good stuff.

Barry Smiler is a former touring musician, retired concert producer, and all around great guy. In his doddering senescence he still retains a few opinions, and occasionally offers them in places like this.