I’m taking a sonic trip to Hawaii by way of India and Africa, listening to a gorgeous album, Am Akua, from Grammy winning slack-key guitarist Jim “Kimo” and Billboard New Age Chart topper Joss Jaffe while writing this post!
The album presents a never before heard combination of unique instrumentation including Indian tablas, Hawaiian percussion, African Ngoni (harp), a bevy of custom and rare guitars, and ambient soundscapes. The music at times feels like a tapestry of dreamy ambience, Hawaiian music, African kora music, jazz, and world music reminiscent of the 70’s band Shakti with John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussein (whose Tabla player Joss counts as one of his primary teachers and has performed with en ensemble).
West, respected in his own right with a 2021 Grammy win for More Guitar Stories, is also well known as the lead guitarist with “Weird” Al Yankovic for over 40 years. Jaffe is a Los Angeles based multi-instrumentalist known for his ambient album Meditation Music which reached number 3 on Billboard’s New Age Chart in 2019. He has toured the world performing at premiere yoga events and transformational festivals.
Each track on the album has its own vibe. The opener “Blossom,” was also the lead single released late last year. The inspiration for this song was to open the album with a light, sunny, happy, upbeat track. The guitar evokes the descending and ascending melodic runs of a kora (African harp). The instrumentation includes ngoni, playing a fun 6/8 ostinato with an African high life feel. The tabla brings in world instrumentation with an uplifting, lilting groove that brings to mind a flower opening to the sun.
The album takes you from the idyllic garden isle of Kawai, to a walk through a tropical bamboo grove with the wind rustling above and the bamboo drifting around you. "River" has a driving tabla beat that speeds up to a crescendo with slide guitar, and layers that at times sounds like blues, jazz, world and classical Indian music. “Voyaging” is dreamy ambient piece evoking the lilting, rolling waves of the open sea. The album closes with “White Sand Blue Waves,” a gentle piece that evokes smooth waves on a tropical beach with crystal blue water and soft white sand.