I like this album.
Singer Jacob Bain gave it to me, a white guy from Seattle apprently into African music and connected to some great African artists. But the first impression is the indie band artwork and name. I was kind of curious. Would it work? I put it on and it immediately said something to me and I felt it was going to work. It might be just that. I could understand the words. A lot of music from Africa is of course in different languages so we don’t understand; it’s kinda nice having an African vibe with lyrics and content that you can get your teeth into. There seems to be a thing going on with white musicians taking on African forms very creatively and authentically at the moment.
Also the drive to be ever more radical and cutting edge on the current out-of-Africa scene tends to music that’s either more rootsy or more grimey, more urban, faster and furiouser. But here’s an album that’s accessible, has got tunes. It’s hiphop-ish with a slower, more careful delivery and less hard-edged. Oh, except the lyrics seem to be harder-hitting as a result of their careful, cliche-avoiding poetry. It’s listenable. It’s got refrains. Dare I say, the chorus effect vocals on the vocals keeps reminding me, somehow, I really don’t know why, of Toto’s Africa. That’s mean to be a positive comment.
Horns and that classic Congolese guitar sound set out from the start the whole album’s clear debt to African music. But Wake Me Up is not trying to be Afrobeat. It doesn’t try to copy. In general, though upbeat the album asks to be listened rather than danced to.
Track two Trickery Ran Like Water has something like Balkan Beat Box in its delivery and political intent. Talking drums and slightly dirty guitar riffs by non other than Malian Vieux Farka Toure add flavour. Like Balkan Beat Box Jacob Bain has borrowed from the musics of the world to deliver socially conscious messages.
The next track Never Again goes all Spanish/Mediterranean with a nice crisp bass underpinning it all. Finally, I remember what it reminds me of. Macedonian band Foltin’s Lo-Tee-Ta-Too. No one would know this apart from me. Then when the vocals of Zimbawean guest Edith WeUtonga come in it’s all kind of Seven Days with Youssou N’Dour and Neneh Cherry.
The Rent Is Late is a lightly rapped angry comment on the pressure of poverty. The fingered guitar ostinato through the track and then the Afrobeat horns make you think he might be singing about an African problem, but then you think it might be about Seattle. Some nice rhymes stand out: daughter.. everythng’s on her. Lyrics worthy of Bruce Cockburn hit home: Fast forward to some sexual harrassment. Good song.
Our Time is Short comes in mellow and relaxed. It feels more mainstream than the rest. Our time is short. It’s too short to hate. Horns again. Then the whispy vocals of German-Nigerian Nneka. Too short to hate. What a great message.
Groove, horns, then talking drums kick in on track 6 A Language Of Its Own, topped by a soukous guitar, ‘to question oppression’.
The title track A Thousand Kinds Of Gold, oh hang on, starts with a kind of slow Cuban electro-son or tango. Again the lyrics are the main point here, faster than other tracks. I’m going to need to get hold of them or listen slowly. It reminds me of… oh I don’t know what. I like this track a LOT. What’s it about?
Monsoon Rains is another slower beat. There’s Toto again in the chorus-effect vocals, and the anthemic rain message. With some guitar licks and some neat stops. Nice.
Shine heads to East Africa with Oliver Mtukudzi and, yet another surprise, a smooth string orchestra to open. The strings make me think of Tanzanian Tarab orchestra having a go at easy listening to introduce the gruff vocals of ‘Tuku’ singing against Bain’s refrain – ‘today’s the day we’re gonna shine‘.
The last track The Biddy Bong Song (come on, it’s a great title) is wordless steady Cumbia-esque rhythm under a slow horn section morphing into some grooves that just groove, on and on, and on. That’s where I’d loop it and let it go on just a bit more, and sample some kind of solo or vocal from another CD, before fading out.
You got it, I love this album.