Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate's electrifying second album, Monistic Theory, derives its title from the concept that reality is a unified whole and that all existing things can be ascribed to or described by a single concept or system. It's an apt philosophy for this boundary-crossing collaboration, one that brings together two musicians from vastly different backgrounds in search of the commonalities that are uniquely revealed by artistic expression. Joe Driscoll has gained fame over the last decade for his unique blend of folk, funk and hip-hop. Sekou Kouyate, from Guinea, is one of the most innovative and virtuosic players of the kora, the 21-stringed West African harp. When these two seemingly disparate artistic forces are combined, an incendiary musical reaction takes place.
Monistic Theory was recorded at the Cumbancha studios in Vermont during one of the coldest winters on record. While the weather outside was frightening, the studio was ablaze with Kouyate's scorching kora licks, Driscoll's lyrical acrobatics and the potent rhythmic underpinning of drummer Jimbo Breen and bassist John Railton. After years of presenting their high energy, broadly appealing show to stages across the world, the ensemble had settled into a deep groove. This dramatic evolution and solidification of their musical interaction is clearly evident on Monistic Theory, which features a selection of tight, catchy, and funky songs.
The album opens prophetically with the sound of trickling water and the voice of Oren Lyons, a Native American author, activist and Faithkeeper from upstate New York, near Driscoll's hometown of Syracuse. "Water is life, water is the foundation of life. It is life. We are water," muses Lyons. From there it's off to the races of the instrumental opener "Tamala," as Sekou Kouyate's fingers fly effortlessly across the kora like water trickling over rocks in a mountain stream. The album's second track, "Just Live" finds Driscoll waxing poetic on his philosophy of life. "Tokira" is Monistic Theory's sing along anthem, the song that will have lighters held high at future concerts. Other highlights on Monistic Theory include the jaw-dropping kora playing on "Barra" and the inspirational and timely call for unity on "Rising Tide."
The album ends with a live, instrumental cover of the Stevie Wonder classic "Master Blaster," although you've surely never heard it played quite like this before. Recorded in front of packed house at the Westcott Theater in Syracuse, New York on a hot summer night, the track demonstrates the remarkable musicianship and unstoppable groove of this astonishing pairing.