Some notorious electronic music talents have started their careers as percussionists. And so did Yaya, but his tale is different to all the rest. His new release for Desolat takes a unique, upbeat approach to 4/4 beats: combining heartfelt Benin influences – samples from dialogue and traditional ballads – with the stretched-out tension and release of Balearic and the bubbling pops and stutters of tech house, plus the occasional kickback to a Commodore64 high score melody.
Raised in Turin, Italy, rhythm was his lifeblood for Yassin Ligali, also known as Yaya, from an early age. His father was the lead vocalist and percussionist for M’Bamina, a band consisting of musicians from Benin, Zaire, Italy and Cameroon. M’Bamina released eight albums, collaborated with artists like Manu Dibango and Salif Keita, were sponsored by Paco Rabanne and played all over Africa, including a show for the presidents of Senegal and France. Their final show was with James Brown in Paris in 1985 – the year Yaya was born.
Well-versed in his father’s legacy, Yaya grew up playing drums and djembe, and at the age of 15, began performing as a percussionist in Turin clubs. Just one year later, he was already DJing, playing funk, soul, afrobeat, house and garage. Manu Dibango and Fela Kuti found a spot in his crate next to records by Masters at Work and Dimitri from Paris: contrasts of rhythm and structure that pervade his music to this very day. From playing in Turin discos like Pier and Doctor Sax, word of the Yaya sound spread and he began playing nights at Amnesia, Lime Light and Pulp in Milan, and Tenax in Florence. Pretty soon he was headlining at clubs across Europe: from Fellini and City Hall in Barcelona to Seven in Croatia. Notably, he played at Space in Ibiza – Carl Cox’s Tuesday night party with Angels of Love. There’s something about the atmosphere of Ibiza that suits Yaya to a tee. In his words: twisting, empathetic, joyful and wild.