“Ethnic instrumentation,” begins bassist and Ex-Centric Sound System leader Yossi Fine, “isn’t usually perfectly tuned.” He pauses. “World music, okay... they put a lot of perfectly tuned keyboards and harmonies on it. It sounds sweet and nice, but it shouldn’t be like that.” Fine, who has expertly handled bass chores for musicians famous (David Bowie, Lou Reed) and, as he puts it, “unfamous,” is decisive when it comes to points where ancient and modern music should meet. “The groove and the ethnic instruments need to be in front,” he insists. “It needs to be pretty thick.”
He reached this conclusion after his affiliations with the “unfamous” led him to explore “a different flavor of things” in music and sideline as a DJ combining house and African tracks. He also began to acquire field recordings (his own and others’) that set him to marveling at the extent of global sounds that could be grafted onto a groove.
A purist’s sense of fusion defined what Fine wanted for the band he would eventually lead, including a distaste for synthesizers. “I’d rather use noises from all over the globe to make my point,” he says gleefully. Fine, who was born in Paris to Israeli and Caribbean parents, assembled and honed his band in Israel among the little-known but sizable West African community there. Ex-Centric Sound System was built around Fine’s virtuosity on the bass hooked up with its customary chum the drumset (manned by Michael Avgil), festooning that unwavering organic core with African drums, balafon, flutes, kalimba and vocals provided by Nana Dadzie and Miss Avedo.
Their 2000 debut disc Electric Voodooland tapped deep into the dub vein with hard but sparkling African rhythms, programs and samples alternately reined in and soaring free. It was more than a bit reminiscent of African Head Charge, whose live performance at the 1993 U.K. Glastonbury Festival dazzled Fine. “It sounded huge,” he recalls. “They showed me the potential of that hybrid.”
The band’s second go, 2004’s West Nile Funk (Indieland Entertainment), goes deeper into the “pretty thick” course prescribed by Fine. Generally faster and denser than the first disc, its updating of African music stems from enhancing the sound while maintaining the integrity of the source material. Fine’s love for field recordings naturally came into play, resulting in some brilliant match-ups.