Kenya’s favourite afro-pop band Sauti Sol brought some extra cheer to the internets over the second last weekend of November by releasing their third album entitled Live and Die in Afrika as a free download for a brief 48 hours. There’s iTunes, Amazon MP3 and a ton of other options for those who missed out on the freebies.
The album represents the band’s four year evolution from the signature acoustic/afro-soul/afro-fusion sounds of their previous albums and crossing over to more accessible pop-oriented sounds and even a bit of experimentation that gave birth to the Sauti Sol EP. In as much as this evolution has not gone down well with die-hard lovers of Mwanzo and Sol Filosfia, it seems to be working for Sauti Sol just fine. Live and Die in Afrika boasts at least four hit singles led by Sura Yako and Nishike .
For a title as loaded as Live and Die in Afrika, the marriage between the album’s content and concept does not seem compete. The title suggests an album that would try to bring out various themes and stories about life and death in Africa from an African point of view; a depiction of not only the hopes and dreams of the continent but its struggles as well. Those expecting a vibe like Nneka’s My Fairy Tales, Blitz The Ambassador’s Native Sun or Mr. Vigeti from this album should look elsewhere. With a tracklist dominated by love and party songs, the album adopts a narrower approach and does not attempt to make any overt political statements. The band’s rather confuzzling explanation of the album cover’s concept (comparisons to Idi Amin and Mobutu) does not help either.
On the other hand, where the album excels at its intended concept and what makes it interesting is the broad range of its sound scape. It breezes through afro-pop, zouk, lingala, rumba, soukus, Carribean, world beat, dancehall, R&B, funk, soul, house and Latin – all genres rooted to or influenced heavily by African music. The album was almost entirely self-produced by the band and they clearly had great ideas about how it should sound like. They are at their best production-wise in the stellar Sura Yako, Franco inspired It’s Okay, the title track and Kuliko Jana featuring Aaron Rimbui.
Lyrically, Live and Die in Afrika does not really deliver many moments of brilliance. The band keeps their lyrics simple, a decision that works like a double edged sword – making some tracks a joy to sing along to but also making others pretty forgettable. Dollar Dollar and Relax can easily be identified as the fillers of this album. Replacing either one of those tracks with the old but still fresh Money Lover would have made for a much more solid album. To counter this they’ve come through with some seriously good melodies in tracks such as Kiss Me, Isabella and Nerea that will keep most folks and the hardcore day one fans happy.
Live and Die in Afrika documents the various ways in which Sauti Sol has grown as a band and brand. Some of their musical, marketing and distribution decisions of late are quite a long way from the more familiar territories of their previous albums. This evolution has expanded their fan base and probably made them much more successful. The album also offers quite a bit of their original sound as well.
The ambitious title may have led to some justified expectations about the album’s content but, deep down, everyone knows that it would have been a major surprise if the band dropped some heavy political rhetoric or social commentary in this album. It would have been a good thing or a bad thing, we’ll never know. At least, they stuck to what they do best and did it well.
Scoot over to this week’s Sample Sunday article for the samples and possible inspirations behind some of the tracks on this album.