It is without trouble that I picked out Curtis Harding’s second album as one of my favourites this year. In addition to reminding me of soul music’s veneration, Face Your Fear quite impressed me with its musical distinction; the songs are as deeply moving as they are fiery. The album also arrested my attention with its open and fearless emotional immediacy. With hindsight, I see how 2017 was one hell of an emotional roller coaster on my part.

Face Your Fear has interesting effects and it begins with a cultivated tone in Wednesday Morning Atonement the first single off the album. “Hello children/ well it’s been, such a very long time/ now I’ve finally found the mind/ to explain, where I’ve been living” – if initially I found this to talk about an (his) absentee father, I also pondered on whether Curtis was singing about his long musical hiatus.

Not for nothing is the title track to be admired. The song has a highly wrought potency as it advises us on facing whatever life throws at us. “If you’re afraid of the grave, be brave and just pick up the phone/ I know how it gets everyone’s sun sets baby you’re not alone/ if you look away from your day I’d just say so long” – courage and determination are two sides of the same coin; Face Your Fear subtly captures the dread and hesitations that come with each.

On and On and Go As You Are both manage to evoke ideas and inspiration to keep moving even as they channel introspection. Additionally, relayed in a style that has been categorized as psychedelic soul, I like how the music dances in Go As You Are. Beneath the finger-snapping and ritzy charm of remembering the good times the singer shared with his girl, Till the End is a story of hurting, endurance and undying love.

I implore you to listen to Need Your Love and do not doubt how he fittingly and ardently describes a longing. There is a captivating bass and drumming that beautifully comes alive and where I think there’s a lot that could have been done with Curtis’ vocals here, the soul shouting was lively and fantastic. This longing is also projected on Dream Girl whose melody I thought quite ethereal and on Welcome To My World where, beyond a passing nod, I struggled to find anything exceptional and inviting.

The setting for Ghost of You is rather icy and you can tell this by the music’s soft and sad motif. For me, the lyrics and vocals only come to sentimentalise a creation that is already sentimental. *Shucks* What could be more capable of helping us find light than someone or something that we can bank on? Need My Baby is one such confession; “I get so tired of heart ache and stress/ so I reach out to you for your tenderness/ cause you got that something that it’s all about” – the song is certainly given its due by the relationship between the words and its timbre.

Curtis’ grace and conviction are beautifully married in As I Am, an alluring single which I feel with and for him. The way in which he sings about his passion and struggles is not just soulful but also, in my opinion, powerful. It is not the album’s most radical single but it is definitely hinting at his acknowledging both the gloominess and optimism that comes with what he does.

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With Harding, I like to believe that the classic and soulful funk of the 60-70s is back to lift our spirits as it did back then with Mayfield! So, get your musical ears ready for more  standout albums from he, and hopefully from more standout artists as he!

On Thursday evening I had two things booked in my diary: weekly tango sessions and June Gachui’s concert at J’s Fresh Bar & Kitchen. I weighed my options fastidiously, settled for June’s and headed straight for J’s after work. Over the course of her performance, my expectations were confounded. In retrospect though, my predominant reaction was a rather balmy one that led me to cop her album. Dubbed Twenty Years, this is an impressive achievement on several fronts.

The album, a testimonial to a long musical journey, was produced by June and co-produced by David Hunter, Eddie Grey and Pete Odera. It is also a testimonial to June’s versatility as an artist as she skillfully incorporates Blinky Bill, Khaligraph Jones and Angie Gachui. The sound quality is excellent that documents the well-rounded voice very well familiar in the Kenyan social scene. I would characterize the 12 tracks as belonging to three categories all in which love is lost and love is found, times are good and times are bad – really, a mixture of experiences all pleasant to a fault.

The album starts with the soulful Everything Is Fine, which for some strange reason reminded me of India Arie’s Chocolate High. The lyrics are simple and predictable enough to sing along to and the music catchy enough for your fingers to fing to. Holla, which features Blinky Bill, is a funky groove that is more Blinky than it is June. Still, the dynamics are used well as is the blend of the Swanglish used here. You Should Love Me is an unfussy and mesmerizing sing touching on an unrequited love, a song that hits most especially where the person you are in love with is already seeing someone else.

I’m going to have to ask you to leave me/I really don’t want you to hate me/ It’s just a case of mistaken identity highlight the track, Mistaken Identity, in which the singer laments that the man she’s with isn’t what she thought him to be and that what they have ought to end. For the sheer beauty of how this was delivered, I really do hope that that man hit the ground running. In Right Direction, June imbues something gospel-like as she not only reflects on her journey past but also affirms her faith. The lyrics, and vocals singing to a piano accompaniment, are delicate whose nuance allows the song to come within this grand spiritual piece.

The lovey-dovey sentimental feels transition to a sexual attenuate in Stay In Lose yourself in all of me/Kiss me slowly/Take me gently/To our special place/Let’s just you and me, make some memories”. The track is beautifully shaped and it is no surprise that June brings a certain charm coupled with a certain tenderness and depth of feeling. The elegant but poignant Crossed the Line is a marvelous exploration of desire and yearning. June’s attention to the music is impressive throughout (but there’s a chord she transposes somewhere in there that I feel not quite right). That aside, this is easily my best track in the album.

Both Good Day and Everybody are feel-good tracks. The vivid playfulness, as that which she displayed when performing these on Thursday, is, evidently, their greatest asset. On the one hand, she brings out positive vibes in the thoughtfully-put-together Good Day and on the other, both her and Khaligraph’s talents and prolific output are displayed in this song that everybody needs to bask in. No End,which features her sister Angie, is a graceful and ardent ode to her late father. Delivered with some hint of sultry jazz and lovely guitar interludes, it is, I believe, a fittingly soulful conclusion to an impressive album.

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I found the collaboration of the musicians quite nifty and I hope for more adventurous projects from our jolly June. Lastly, dear reader, I ask of your indulgence in the album which you can buy here.

Thanks to a tweep’s retweet of Blinky Bill’s tweet, I discovered No Touch Am and so I archived the tweet for a later visit. What a wonderful surprise! It’s not that I expected any less of the famous Just-A-Band member paired with the eclectic direction of Osborne Macharia and Andrew Mageto! The style is reminiscent of a work I have previously seen but that’s beside the point.

While I shall happily admit that Blinky Bill and Nneka yielded a pleasant song, I was not entirely convinced that theirs was No Touch Am’s key highlight. The video, undeniably great of visuals that are tight, generative and very creative, is. Well, at-least for me. The éclat made a proper impression of 3 stylish men, reported to be herbal men from Nigeria’s Hausa tribe, who together with domesticated wild animals, turn to protect their indigenous forest.

What notably struck me was the warmth in the blending of both the modern and the traditional as well as the brilliance of the finale. With all its charm, there is much more to it than that; herein are positive figures both human and animal alike, fighting for what is essential and rightfully theirs. That, as are the words in the song, are not telling us anything we do not already know and thus, the glory remains that the song is speaking to us as directly as it can.

Overall, I think the whole production set handled the project well and did a remarkably fine job of delivering the lyricism and the visuals. Additionally, Blinky’s “People have power they just do not know it/the people that have it don’t want them to know it..” and Nneka’s “Sometimes we do not need melodies to harmonise..” seem to me phrases worth lauding. Their singing was uniformly strong and they did excellently both as a duet as well as individually.

I have a longing though; pray tell, what happened to the logger at the end of the video and indeed, of the forest? Lastly, as exciting as it was awe-inspiring, here’s a bar set for the rest of Blinky Bill’s Everyone’s Just Winging It and Other Fly Tales album.

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Side note: Where I had little, the video may have topped up a little more faith in hyenas. Ha! ha!

You expect an underwhelming clandestine track featuring a naked video vixen with  trippy lyrics that go on and on about superficial fucks and facts of life but, in a tasteful turn of events, you get much much more than that. The former is obviously not glamorous at all. What is, is this debut album whose cover is as daring as are some of the intricate lyrics so intimately crooned by a sultry voice.

Of all the artists I put on my list of the year’s best albums, Kelela’s ascendance has been one of the most significant. Her lyricism is simple and straight to the point, her emotions raw and for her to balance all these together with her sexual vulnerability makes it an album worth celebrating.

I first heard of Kelela in October when the album came out and naturally, I went on to listen to her previous works. All of them are brilliant but with this, her first studio album, she has managed to show that while form plays a major role in music, it really isn’t everything. A fine singer and songwriter in her own right, hers is a functional album that logs her emotional transition from a break-up until such a time time she finds a new love. I found this to be both brave and admirable.

I won’t talk about all 14 tracks but the amount of good good packed in the whole album is sure impressive. That said, and without much ado, I will delve right into the five solid grooves that got me absorbed:

Titular Track –  Vulnerability is a beautiful thing sometimes; so many emotions that, for some reason, come so much physical attraction. However, part of its attraction is when all these emotions and attractions come together and weld into something stronger and more beautiful.

Better – What I liked most about this is that the keyboard is played pianissimo and thus her vocals astonishingly bare as she sings about resolving conflict in order to establish a friendly relationship with her {former} lover.

Truth or Dare – Listed 8th on the album, this is one of the groovier tracks with a funky percussive flair. It is flirtatious signalling that she has her sexual confidence back and basically brimming with that playful sensation you get when you meet someone you like.

Blue Light – But for the auto tunewhich I’ll assume was necessary for this track, I loved this particular song as she finally lets her guard down and is willing to take on the relationship as well as spice things up. “I’m on my way right now/Promise I won’t be long” – she just can not resist it! Uuuugh..

Altadena – I like what she has become by the time she reaches this mellow track. She’s already settled into it and has unquestionably gone from one strength to another. Surely, this is a song of triumph and comfort and, I don’t know, credo?

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Am I happy? Yes. Kelela has manifested herself in incredible voice and I am grateful to have discovered her music.

It’s a beautiful hot and sunny day in Nairobi and I’m hoping for a chill weekend because it has been a pretty tiring week. In other news, I have been reflecting on my feels about having a partner and I have further, further narrowed it down to a partner who can dance. Yesterday, I created my first ‘waltzy’ tanda with a nice cortina to boot! But that’s for another day. Love and life are beautiful as are this week’s best of five!

I discovered Tom Baxter as I was reading up on Charles Winston; to learn that they are brothers, wow! Tom was such a pleasant surprise for me as was this his song that is so well poised. I do also think his voice does justice to the delivery of both the message and the feels! The kind of song that kinda prompts you to want to start something wholesome – “So if u think you love someone/try, try, try/because that one maybe your only one” – A fine canzone from a fine man indeed.
When I first chanced on this last to last week, I thought it a song from ages ago. I’m still under the spell that it is despite having looked Stoneking up. The hoodoo magic spell is apparently intended for someone you want to love you but oh! What a tragic end to this one! – “I studied evil, I can’t deny/ Was a hoodoo charm called a Love Me or Die….Matilda’s waiting in Hell for me too/All cause she died from a bad hoodoo.”
I’mcLovin’ his style.
And so, at long last, Face Your Fear was released this October. First of all, all the music that Curtis makes is incredible and he has come to mean a great deal to lovers of soul. Second, I love the bass and how it builds the song in here. I kinda keep getting back to the chorus – “Though I try, I can’t deny/ You know why/ I need your love baby/I need your love” – A perfect bittersweet encapsulation of what it feels to love and be loved!
Tiffany has been releasing some dreamy and enchanting music for a while now and this fantastic tune is about as dreamy and enchanting as it gets. The impressionistic effects of the keyboard and her vocals are washing me over and bringing up fragments of sentimental feelings that almost force me to tell some black king to give himself to me already. Anyway, it’s exciting to listen to her music and to know that she is one of the few whose music I’ll readily listen to.
I cannot confirm that I am a believer when I have so much I don’t understand; and unlike him when he says that that’s why he trusts in God, I do not. Still, when moments of quiet and calm come in, and when I feel tired of the events happening world over, I have found that this is one song I go to on many such occasions. Maybe it is that he speaks a truth I share or that he captures the madness of the world so beautifully. I don’t know. Either way, Mali Music is truly gifted.