- Now in its fifth year, the Glasgow-rooted Highlife party has become the center of a growing international scene. The crew seeks to cultivate and interact with dance music communities across the globe—in particular, artists hailing from Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. One of three principal Highlife members (along with Andrew Thomson and Esa Williams), Brian d'Souza is their most accomplished producer. As Auntie Flo, the Scotsman has built a catalog of strong solo records, and 2015 saw him collaborating with musicians from Cuba and Uganda as part of Huntleys + Palmers' Highlife Word Series. He now returns with Theory Of Flo, a refined album that gives the scene d'Souza and his Highlife compatriots have been steadily cultivating its first full-length statement.
As to be expected, Theory Of Flo is very much an international effort. The album is co-produced by Esa Williams, a South African-born artist who relocated to Glasgow and became a Highlife resident early on, and was recorded over a two-year period between studios in Havana, Glasgow and London. The record enlists Ghanaian singer Anbuley, as well as a number of Cuban musicians d'Souza worked with during his 2014 visit to the country. UK artists Shingai Shoniwa (vocalist of The Noisettes), Hidden Orchestra's Poppy Ackroyd (on string arrangements) and Richard Thair of Red Snapper (occasionally on drum duty) also lend their talents. To its credit, Theory Of Flo is never overwhelmed by the presence of its collaborators; these ten tracks don't make their guests the focal point, nor do they wear their international influences too obviously.
A key to successfully merging these worlds is the space d'Souza allows in his productions. Theory Of Flo's sonic build is an efficient one, where precise rhythmic layers (often electronic kits fused with hand-played percussion) are paired with rounded sub-bass and light, airy melody. On the most successful material, these meticulously sculpted components come together for subtly hypnotic dance music. "Su La" opens Flo on a high note, using Anbuley's raspy voice (sung in the language of Ga) to lead a slow brew of glassy keys and sparse rhythms. As the song opens up, d'Souza sneaks adventurous Rhodes lines and streaks of energized percussion beneath the music's rigid columns. The anthemic "So In Love" and two "Dance Ritual" tracks are similarly successful with meditative grooves. Veering slightly off course, the kickless "Dreamer" loads up on thumb-piano melodies and arpeggios, but leaves the mix's bottom-end virtually empty.
Combining club and "world music" influences has proven problematic in the past, so it's surprising how well Theory Of Flo works. The secret boils down to the skill and dedication of its mastermind. No passerby when it comes to the music of Cuba, West Africa, Turkey or any other country that has caught his attention, d'Souza is informed, enthusiastic and deeply engaged with the disparate sounds in Highlife's purview. It makes Flo an album that seamlessly blends clear-eyed club music with rich international sounds, while deftly navigating the tricky task of not watering down either.
01. Su La feat. Anubley & Richard Thair
02. Cape Malay Prayer
03. So In Love feat. Shingai & Richard Thair
05. Waiting for A f feat. Anbuley
06. Dance Ritual I feat. Anbuley
07. Dance Ritual II feat. Anbuley
08. Hewal3 feat. Anbuley
09. Mandla in Space feat. Anbuley
10. For Mihaly feat. Poppy Ackroyd & Richard Thair