Native instruments just released a new sound set called West Africa, Discovery Series. I was a little leery of buying it as I already possess a slew of ethnic samples and sounds, plus the Native Instruments’ Website is a horrible, unintuitive, slow Flash-based travesty that makes me wince every time I visit it.
Companies: if your Website sucks you’re losing business. Don’t fool yourselves. Keep it simple and effective.
But I digress. The point is once I did purchase it I really began to like it. It has two basic tricks:
Not just drum kits these are authentic West African rhythm ensembles composed of six instruments each. Each kit maps your midi keyboard with ensemble loops at the bottom, fills a little higher up, and then single drum hits. Each drum is tunable, pannable, and can be mixed with the others as you see fit. It’s very easy to get started by just holding down keys in the bottom and letting the patterns flow. Then you can get in the pattern editor and make changes as needed. I’d never worked with a system like this so it was a bit confusing at first but once I grasped the basics I found it very usable.
The main selling point of this system is the amazing sound. Its sound quality FAR exceeds anything I’ve been able to come up with using static ethnic drum loops or trying to create kits and program them myself. These drums have an authenticity and variation to them that really make them pop. I didn’t have time to use them on tomorrow’s song but you’ll be hearing them on lots of stuff in the future.
In addition to the drum ensembles the set has a number of traditional West African pitched instruments including flutes, guitar-like stringed instruments, and kalimba-like balafons. Again, none of these instruments are set up in the traditional sampler way:
- Samples only stretch over a range actually covered by the instrument.
- Instruments are all heptatonic (only white keys play) as is their traditional tuning. The black keys often offer variations on how each note is played depending on the instrument. This can be switched to a more tradition chromatic scale if desired.
- Several instruments also offer odd “thump” or hit sounds a player would traditionally throw in while performing. Think of how an acoustic guitarist will band on the guitar for effect.
All of this combines to produce very high quality and exceptionally realistic sounds. It’s a world away from the normal rompler approach and quite impressive.
Exceptional sound quality and solid ergonomics (once you grasp the basics) makes Native Instrument’s West Africa set a very tasty addition for anyone involved in world music or soundtracks. Solidly recommended.