Sway Machinery has been a who’s who of the city music scene since forming six years ago, taking in members of Balkan Beat Box, Arcade Fire and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But for its sophomore album, “The House of Friendly Ghosts, Volume 1,” the band journeys to West Africa, recruiting Malian vocalist Khaira Arby to write and perform.
“She’s an incredibly beautiful human being,” said bandleader Jeremiah Lockwood. “Her voice is just one of those voices. It’s more like breathing fire, shooting out pure human energy. She’s a great, great artist.”
Arby is one of the more prominent artists in Mali, though virtually unknown here. Lockwood first heard her music on YouTube and was “very, very taken with it.” So, when the band went to Mali for the Festival in the Desert last year, Lockwood and crew recorded an album in Timbuktu with the local musicians there, including Arby.
“Timbuktu one of great music cities maybe in the world. You hear history in the music,” said the Crown Heights-based Lockwood, who’d know a thing or two about that — he music is very much influenced by the Jewish cantorial tradition of his grandfather. “The power of music to dictate the story and feelings about connections to the past,” he added. “And that’s what the record’s about, the friendly ghosts are the ancestors who are trying to contact and channel through making music.”
Of course, there’s something to be said about the current connections Lockwood is making with his band. And when Sway Machinery celebrates the release of its new album at the Bell House on March 5, Arby will be there.
“It’s a big collective vibe in Sway Machinery,” said Lockwood. “We’re fortunate to have great people who have played with us a lot and recorded with us. It’s like an extended family.”
Sway Machinery at the Bell House [149 Seventh St. between Second and Third avenues in Gowanus, (718) 643-6510], March 5 at 8 pm. Tickets $18 (at the door). For info, visit www.thebellhouseny.com.