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September 21, 2012
By Forrest Hartman
If each member of the Afro-pop sextet H'Sao pursued a solo project, drummer Charles Dono Bei is convinced they would land in different sections of the music store.
"I think I would do rap music," he said. "The keyboard player would do something like probably pop or pop rock. The guitar player would do rock music. ... The bass player would do reggae, and my brother, Service, would do something like, I don't know, classics."
On tour, said Bei (who goes by Dono in the band), the group listens to all these styles and more. That may explain why it's difficult to define the H'Sao sound. Depending on the song, listeners can hear everything from R&B to gospel influences. In fact, the only constant is an unmistakable African underpinning. Dono, performing with H'Sao Oct. 4 at Nightingale Concert Hall, said there's no escaping the African sound because each member of the group is from Chad, a landlocked African nation adjacent to Libya and Sudan.
"The African influence sticks to us because we grew up in that," Dono said. "We tend to bring it all back to Africa and to our roots music."
But H'Sao isn't a traditional African band. Rather, Dono said, the members are respectful of their roots but continuously pushing forward.
"We want to explore something different," he said. "We're always looking for new sounds."
That may mean a rock song infused with African vocal harmony, or it could mean a gospel-tinged a cappella piece. The possibilities are countless because five of the group's six members actively write, bringing their sensibilities to the collective. When creating new music, Dono said, one member usually comes in with a song. Then, everyone works on it, adding ideas as they see fit. Disagreements are solved democratically.
The current H'Sao lineup has been together since 1995. That's when Dono and his brother, Service Ledjebgue, teamed up with siblings Caleb, Mossbass, Taroum and Israel Rimtobaye. Dono said the band is special because everyone comes from just two families.
"We really know each other very well," he said. "Even though you have a different opinion from your brother, it's still your brother, right? At the end of the day, you go home and you talk about it and it's gone. With friends, it's not the same relationship unless it's friends with whom you grew up."
In concert, Dono said audiences should expect a show filled with dancing and singing. And, although H'Sao is now based in Canada, he hopes the music gives people a better view of his mother country.
"Chad is a country that is not well known," he said. "For those who know Chad, it's for wars and for things that we're not that much proud of. We want to bring something different."