Bamboula 2000, formed in 1994, certainly lives up to its name in presenting rhythmic music with its roots in the past and taking it to the present. There are a lot of modern sounds on Up from Congo Square—some funk, some neo-soul, a touch of smooth-style jazz—while it continues to look back to the African continent of its origins.
That core remains strong primarily due to the presence and dedication of Bamboula’s leader, percussionist Luther Gray. Gray was, of course, central in getting Congo Square recognized as a historic site. The area, now located in Armstrong Park, was unique in the United States as slaves and people of color were allowed to play their drums and dance there on Sundays. Their spirits live on in all of New Orleans music, a point of emphasis for Bamboula 2000.
When bassist Cheryl Woods is onboard as lead vocalist, as she is on the opener, “All We Got,” the musical vibe is of today. That’s also true of trumpeter/vocalist Jeremy Thomas, who helps in successfully bringing the old and new worlds together on “Kakilambe,” with the African tradition upheld by vocalist Jamilah Peters Muhammad.
With its unique mix of styles and instrumentation, Up from Congo Square stands as an album that could only be born of New Orleans.