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Finding a fresh start and getting back to musical roots with Bokanté

Newly formed ensemble Bokanté is the latest venture of Grammy Award-winning Michael League, bandleader of Snarky Puppy.

Reigning from four different continents around the globe, the eight-piece come together to create a truly diverse group. Bokanté’s sound is rich in groove, blues, melody and soul. Translating to ‘exchange’ in Creole, the band will serve up a very special performance at WOMADelaide.
 
“We had our debut performance last month in Miami at the GroundUP Music Festival,” says League. “It was so much fun to play with and hear the band live for the first time, albeit a bit nerve-wracking at first. As soon as the music started, the joy of playing spread across the stage.
 
“The audience can expect the same at WOMADelaide. As a little treat for the locals, as well as ourselves, we'll be joined by bassist Paul Bender from Hiatus Kaiyote for both shows. He and I have known each other for years, but this will be the first time we've ever played together. Everyone in Bokanté is a fan of his group, so it will be a nice mixture of worlds.”
 
Inspired by a fresh start, League explains that while the success of Snarky Puppy has been immense, Bokanté allows him, McQueen and Lanzetti to continue their musical exploration.
“I don't think that any one band can give a musician everything they need to be happy,” he says. “Artists are inherent seekers, explorers, we're restless. You can see that in the fact that 90% of Snarky Puppy's members have solo projects.
 
“Personally, Bokanté scratches a very different itch than Snarky Puppy does, even though they both have the same ethos of community, openness, musical inclusion, a healthy balance of composition and improvisation, and many other similarities. It brings me back to several of my roots, as well as the blues, rock and guitar.”
 
Preparing for the release of their debut record, Strange Circles, set for later this year, Bokanté share universal ideals, touch on political issues and encourage equality, peace, inclusion and understanding.
“Everything you need to know about the band's mission is in the makeup itself,” says League. “Of the eight regular members, we have people from four continents: a Caribbean native living in Montreal, a Japanese percussionist living in New York, and a Swede, and well as the Americans, of which there are a Texan, a Jersey boy, a wandering military brat (me), a Lebanese-American who spent time in India on a Fulbright scholarship, and a gospel lap and pedal steel player from the Black Church in Miami.
 
“I think this speaks to the universality and power of music, and how it brings people together harmoniously. The band is very political— not in partisan affiliation, but in speaking out to remind us all that we, as a planet, are a community.”
 
Although League has the status of Snarky Puppy to support his new endeavours, the driving force behind Bokanté is the sheer talent and diversity of its members. Workshopping the sound for some time on his own, League assures us it all came down to finding the right people.
“Each person has their own personality, but I felt from the very beginning that the combination would be something special,” he says. “While it's already been so much easier than the ten year build up that Snarky Puppy had before being recognized, the process of starting an independent, original music ensemble from scratch is never easy.
 
“The success of your other projects only carries over to a certain extent, and then you have to get your hands dirty and make it happen on your own. It's a new band and it has to prove itself in every way – on stage, in the studio and on the road.”
With a simple mission in mind for Bokanté, League says the primary focus is simple – to make good music.
 
“I want to reach and inspire people. I have some degree of control over that. The other wish I have, which I cannot control in any way, is for people to see the band, listen to the songs and what they're saying, and gain some kind of optimism about humanity and what we're capable of when we practice acceptance and inclusivity.
 
“At this point in time, the world is struggling with issues that haven't flared up in a big way for almost 90 years. I can't run for political office, so this is the best way I know to try to contribute some positivity to the world.”
 
By Phoebe Robertson

Bokanté will perform at WOMADelaide, taking place at Botanic Park, Adelaide from Friday March 10 until Monday March 13.