|Transplanting the Latin Mass into the Dark Continent, African Sanctus on the Swedish audiophile label Proprius is part of David Fanshawe's canon which has received numerous international awards for its music documentaries, including Requiem for the Children of Aberfan, Salaams, a musical essay inspired by the pearl divers of Bahrain, and Arabian Fantasy; besides a formidable body of commercial compositions of some 50-plus scores for film and television. Conceptually, African Sanctus mirrors both Fahir Atakoglu's epic First of All [Koch World, 333362] -- a massive work that interweaves indigenous ensembles and a full symphony orchestra to paint an aural likeness of his motherland Turkey -- and Hans Zimmer's stupendous African choral numbers on the soundtrack for The Power of One.
Even closer parallels exist with various Gitano-style renditions of the Latin Mass by Gipsy cantaor El Lebrijano or guitarist/musicologist Paco Peña; and portions of Ennio Morricone's famous soundtrack for the de Niro/Irons vehicle The Mission. If 'documentary' or 'ethno-musicologist' mentions rang your upstairs alarm bells, as though to suggest a technically accurate but musically lifeless assemblage of National Geographic snippets, relax. African Sanctus is a pan-cultural affair of pagan, Christian and Muslim strains that harvests Fanshawe's original polyphonic location recordings, collected during an often life-threatening trip up the Nile to Lake Victoria, captured with a stereo recorder carried in a rucksack. Working these authentic tapes into the greater context of the subsequent composition has been accomplished with far greater skill than many modern-day aural collages of ethnic samples stuck into modern ambiance manage.
Reading the liner notes to each track prepares you for a true adventure that combines Arabian calls-to-prayer with royal dances; thunderous ceremonial drums; tribal incantations; Koran recitations by four believers on a moonlit mountain top deep in trance and unawares of being taped; wedding celebrations; a camel boy's love song. All this is intermeshed in a most organic fashion with the classically trained voices of the Uppsala University choir Allmäna sången to create a riveting, pan-cultural lithurgical work which further benefits from audiophile-grade recording quality which only in rare instances of temporary tape overload betrays some of its ingredients' humble origins. Add the voices of Anne-Lise Berntsen, a Collegium Mozarteum and Opera School/Stockholm alumni, Ann-Christin Löfgren and Folike Alin, both students of the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, and the final result is completely off the charts, a white-area-on-the-map celebration of the Divine and humanity's ageless reach toward it, made possible because an intrepid musical adventurer braved considerable odds to travel into Egypt, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya from 1969-73, documenting people and cultures that no longer exist.
Think backdrop of heavy rain and a chorus of bullfrogs. Think African harps, nearly off-planet tribal wails of ecstasy, operatic sopranos, woofer-busting percussion transients, sweeping chorals, atonal piano attacks. Truly, African Sanctus is a soundtrack, albeit to a movie that is conjured up solely in the listener's inner vision. It's the kind of affair that will have certain listeners at CES glued to their seat, hackles raised and hypnotized as though staring at a swaying king cobra from inches away. Others will bail in shock to rush to a room playing Mariah Carey instead. So watch out - I'm bringing this with me.
Okay, I'm overstating for dramatic effect. African Sanctus is simply intense, a full-immersion experience that might scare those not prepared for such an assault on the senses. And true, watching your woofers jump like mad in their surrounds might make those less endowed quake in their boots. But for the rest of us, Sanctus is a retro-futuristic celebration of music as a potent time capsule. Enter it and be whisked off into a world where "Benedictus" coexists with bouncy percussion grooves. Thanks to Nizar from May Audio who sent me a fabulous aural care package. We'll encounter its other Opus 3 and WaterLily entrants in short order in these very worldmusic pages. For now, I feel thoroughly sanctified. Time to sin again before I turn into a starchy but boring saint. Damn, it's Sunday. Gotta wait 24 hours. Let's hit repeat then and get a double-dose in preparation for some soulful debauchery next week...