Discovering that a DJ is across the globe in some obscure country is generally a good sign. Chances are they will bring back something rarely heard on this side of the world and in the process make you feel like your record collection is a joke. Chief Boima, an NYC-based producer and writer with a knack for re-creating African house parties, is just the type of professional record spinner to do this. So it wasn’t much of a surprise that the last time I was in contact with Chief Boima he was in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. Good sign.
Associated with the Dutty Artz family, a loose collection of DJs bringing music from outside the western world to mixes, albums and a party near you, Boima’s past offerings showcase an affinity for popular African music along with dancehall riddims, raw-hitting house mixes and ghostly, minimal electro beats. In the last year, Boima has slowly been making a name for himself producing tracks for Panamanian rap duo Los Rakas, launching the bumping NYC party Made in Africa and dropping a series of free mixes including a recent one for OkayAfrica via The Fader’s popular Ghetto Palms blog.
On his newest offering, African in New York, Boima continues to mash pop genres from Africa with bass-heavy house beats, but this time he begins to explore some new territory. The most apparent example is his remix of Usher’s epic club hit “DJ Got Us Fallin in Love.” Boima speeds up the tempo a bit but drops the high-end production by throwing in some rough, poly-rhythmic drum sample that diffuses the track’s hugely, uplifting hook. The result is a steady ride that kills the cornball club feel of the original but in doing so falls a bit flat. At most other points along the way, our African in New York finds success. His remix of Shinehead’s “Jamaican in New York” updates the now awkwardly sounding, ’80s reggae pop track into a real dancehall hit that it always was meant to be. While his straight house offering of the hilariously dated ’90s one-hit wonder “The Percolator” by Cajmere tweaks the track just enough to make it bearable 15 years later.
The moments where Boima really hits his stride, though, is when he returns to those popular African genres. This time we get two remixes of makossa; the upbeat, funky dance genre from Cameroon known for its cyclical guitar lines and prominent horn section. On “Sin Makossa,” Boima keeps its simple incorporating a hissing, high-end drum machine to breathe a little extra life into the track and make it ripe for a sweaty dance floor. While on “Dance Street Makossa, ” (credited here to Boima’s group Banana Clipz) a hefty slab of resonating bass bounces the track along transforming the track into rough-hitting, neo-electro African-infused club jam.
Elsewhere Boima embraces a moody, electro atmosphere. The haunting remix of Sorie Kondi’s “Without Money, No Family” takes the already eerie offering from the blind, Sierra Leone mbira (thumb piano) player into mid-tempo territory of dubstep expanding on its melancholic tone. While the album’s closer heads north to Morocco to tackle Arabic pop, a genre ready-made for house remixes. Boima selects Samira Said’s “Youm Wara Youm” and chooses to stay close to the original. Working within the genre’s limits, Boima mostly leaves out the influence of other musical styles, producing a re-working that would still sit nicely in a high-end Casablanca hookah shop.
African in New York is very much what the title suggests: a fascinating, sometimes strained conglomeration of various styles. What it lacks in cohesiveness, though, it makes up in simple yet inventive modifications and Boima’s ambition. With this offering it continues to be evident that the Chief sits comfortably amongst a growing number of DJs and digital beatsmiths fearlessly culling rarely heard styles from across the globe and spitting them out into the clubs and iPods of approving, polygot hipsters. Where he ranks amongst the Diplos and D/J Ruptures of the world, is still in question. Until then, though, he fits the nu-whirled DJ niche well enough.