“Everybody loves my new car/ all of a sudden I am a sexy man…” _ Sauti Sol
Last year, there was a slight surprise (at least from my end) when Sauti Sol released Mara Hio Hio, a track inspired by Fela Kuti’s Lady featuring Nigeria’s Supa Hype and our very own Muthoni the Drummer Queen. Following their hugely successful debut album Mwanzo and the follow up Sol Filosofia, the band had established a signature sound/style of the down-tempo, soulful variety as evidenced by their most popular song to date – Lazizi – a tune that is never absent from each and every talent show audition in Kenya. There were traces of deviation from the norm in the second album (tracks like Soma Kijana and Private Spice) but Mara Hio Hio gave much stronger signals of the band’s willingness to subtly reach out beyond their signature sound and dive into less “comfortable” genres. However, the best indicator of how far Sauti Sol can stretch is the band’s brand new self-titled EP that is nothing less than a bagful of pleasant surprises.
For this project, they enlisted the production skills of South African producer/artiste Spoek Mathambo and his crew Nombolo One. Spoek Mathambo’s musical style mainly consists of fearless genre blending while maintaining his African roots as the canvas for his work, earning him the tag of the latest afrofuturist sensation. His recently released second full length album Father Creeper is a testament to this and he enjoyed a good run at the 2012 SXSW mega concert as well. So, from the get go it was already guaranteed that this EP would be very different from all other previous Sauti Sol projects.
Despite the impending clash between Sauti Sol and Mathambo’s artistic personalities, the EP’s strongest points are in its opener and following track (attack is the best form of defence anyway). Love or Leave is a perfect balance between these two styles, keeping in touch with benga/lingala elements that define both groups’ African roots. Sauti Sol is also at its most liberated vocal state here, going head to head with the musical arrangement. Later on, the band gets more and more vocally controlled, hardly getting room to breathe above Mathambo’s great weaving dance of the genres from the Jamiroquai style pop in Disco Lover to electro-house in Dxynamix produced Mr. Money. This may prove to be quite some shock therapy for the die-hard traditional Sauti Sol fan.
Everything is total genius in Range Rover - the cleverly used riff off Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy building up to an energetic frenzy that is bound to please on any dance floor in the world, as well as its distinctly smug lyrics oozing innuendos of afrocentric success (“Everybody loves my new car/ all of a sudden I am a sexy man…/Range-y Rover, Range-y Rover”). It is a statement of a fresh and new, grown up, game changing approach to the way Sauti Sol intend to do things - like a brand new Range Rover tearing down the Thika Superhighway. If I was in charge of CMC Kenya, I'd be itching to do something with this music-video ready track.
Summer Love teeters all over light afro beat, jazz and a seasoning of blaxploitation soul with no intention of committing to one or the other, in line with Nombolo One’s enigmatic determination not to be boxed-in. Meanwhile, Slow featuring Spoek Mathambo and Dela cannot avoid being compared with Mathambo’s excellently done Melodi featuring The Frown off his covers project Nombolo One. Whether this is a disadvantage remains to be seen.
In a nutshell, this EP will go a long way in widening the appreciation of Sauti Sol’s brand worldwide in as much as it may catch on slowly on the local front. Muthoni DQ and Bamzigi already caught some far-flung attention with their afro-jungle/afro-bass offerings. Now it’s time for Sauti Sol to try their hand at something radically different but at the same time taking care not to lose themselves in the musical woods.
Scoot over to the Sauti Sol EP Bandcamp page to cop Love or Leave for FREE and to listen to/buy the rest of the EP.