Saturday, May 8, 2010

In review--Pan-Africa (Music of the Diaspora)

Lokua Kanza
World Village/Harmonia Mundi

With the kalimbas, flutes, percussion and soothing male vocals, Congolese Lokua Kanza’s solo album, Nkolo recalls the music of Ugandan Samite. However, Kanza’s covers more of the African Diaspora by bringing in gospel choirs (though more on the angelic than passionate side of things), and Brazilian fare. Gentle lilting guitar, percussion, bass, flute, and lush vocals appear on Dipano while Loyenge sounds like Congolese blues.

The press notes sums up Nkolo, “His voice dominates the ensemble. Sometimes it’s thrown into relief or highlighted by angel choirs, bells, whistles, drums, a child’s voice…” The emotions (without reading an English translation of the lyrics), also offer contrasts from melancholy to pure joy of living on the planet. The Brazilian sound on the album should come as no surprise since Nkolo lives in Paris and Rio, but he hasn’t forgotten his homeland.

“What I want to do through this album is convey the beauty and depth of the Africa of my childhood; but at the same time, I’ve added something else, a creative touch born of all the influences I’ve been subject to,” muses Kanza in the press notes.

I hear similarities between Richard Bona (a friend of Kanza) and Samite. The choice of Western and East and Central African instruments, the modern-sounding vocals coupled with a greater understanding of the world-at-large translates to an international audience. The danceable beats on the quicker tempo songs also translates to an international audience. Take a listen to Nakozonga and try not to groove to its rhythms. And in contrast try not to feel meditative when listening to Mapendo with its angelic choir and layered vocals.

World Village is touting Kanza’s new album as a landmark world music album. Only time will tell if this is true. But at the moment, it’s already feeling like a pan-African classic. The music feels healing, alternating between invigorating and relaxing. And even at its most passionate, the music still feels subtle enough that it won’t jar a sensitive listener. The lush music feels like encountering an oasis in the middle of a desert—refreshing.

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