With Just A Hint Of Mayhem

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‘peace places: Kenyan memories’ EP – Nyokabi Kariũki March 27, 2022


On her latest EP, Kenyan composer and performer, Nyokabi Kariũki, skillfully brings together her Western classical music training and a mastery of African instruments. The music is experimental, imaginative and above all, takes us all on an emotional journey exploring her most cherished spots in and around Nairobi. At the time of composing ‘peace places’, she was living in the States and didn’t know when she’d be able to safely return to Kenya because borders were closed due to the pandemic. Kariũki shows us both the joyful moments of being home as well as the difficulties. “Peace maybe always does come with disconnect and dissonance and that’s still part of it, and maybe there’s a bit of home in that as well,” she says. As you listen to ‘peace places’, the tracks are engineered in a way that makes you feel like her memories of certain places are coming and going or sketchy. Distortion, echo, fadeouts, and drifting between four languages (Kiswahili, Kikuyu, Maa, and English), you get a real sense of this inner peace and at the same time the disconnect she refers to.

The EP was released in February this year through UK-based label SA Recordings. ‘peace places’ was recorded in Maryland and New Jersey and field recordings in all tracks taken in various places around Kenya. 6 compositions and 6 places, her ‘peace’ places. She leads us through compositions about a stroll through a farm, the ocean at dawn voices of family, contributions from close friends, the interwoven languages of home and heritage. In the opening piece and second single from the EP, ‘Equator Song’, Kariũki uses the chirping of a pair of Speke weaver birds as the backbone and sings sweet harmonies over the discordant squawking. Whilst she was travelling through Kenya, she was captivated by the chatter of the bright yellow weaver birds (pictured on the cover) and observed the disconnect between the birds’ fine feathers and rattling commotion, highlighting her growing sense of displacement. As she sings in English, Kariũki draws out the line “You’ll find my soul on someone’s tongue” – a suggestion of the plain fact and lingering pain of not being able to express herself in her native language, as a result of years of British colonial rule. On “A Walk Through My Cũcũ’s Farm” (cũcũ is the Kikuyu word for grandmother) a recording of a visit to her grandmother on Christmas Day 2020. It features a recording of her mother exclaiming in Kikuyu how difficult it is to pull an onion out of the ground. It’s a special memory for Kariũki, even if we aren’t familiar with the context or the language. The track also uses audio from a video she took while she and her brother tried to close the doors that housed her grandmother’s cows. Kariũki’s voice can be heard saying “Let it open, let it open,” though we aren’t directly told what’s being opened. The music paints a picture: cowbells ringing from goats or perhaps her grandmother’s cows, chirping birds, and various narrative sections. Throughout the track there is an underlying and anxious sounding electronic buzz, coming and going, sometimes hazy.

On “Galu”, the first single from the EP, released last year, percussionist Chris O’Leary recreates the sound of the ocean at dawn as Kariũki works and builds on a vocal that grows, evolves into harmonies as though her memory of this ‘peace place’ becomes clearer. At the same time, the drums become more solid and recognisable. Then as her memories fade, so do her vocals and the drums. “Galu” is a cleverly crafted composition, invoking her short yet erstwhile memories of home. A classically trained pianist, her interest in music grew from an early age – on the song “home piano”, Kariũki records herself improvising on the piano she’s had since she was 8. In a recent interview with ourculture magazine, she says that “The piano is still always going to be a peace place for me. Regardless of where I am, it’s just so familiar”.
“Ngurumo” or “Feeding Goats Mangoes” centres on a specific task with conversation, choral vocals, thumb piano, and of course, goats. She talks often about how she includes recordings that she took with her phone, some of them were from videos that she was taking with her phone casually when on holiday. “Oh, I’m by the water or I’m in the village where my dad grew up, let me take a video…There’s this audio from a video of me and my brother feeding mango peels to some goats in the farm in my father’s hometown, because it’s like a fun, silly thing to do.

Perhaps the most conceptually striking piece is the last one, “Naila’s peace place”, in which Kariũki’s friend Naila Aroni (who also painted the record’s artwork) records herself walking through Lamu on the Kenyan coast with a close friend. The town doesn’t allow cars—instead, boats or donkeys transport people. Kariũki hasn’t been there, but Aroni and her other friend visited and discussed how surreal and magical the town felt. “It doesn’t feel real this place, it just doesn’t…” says one of the voices. In the music, vocals and various voices swirl around a vibraphone and electronic fuzz. It’s meditative music and “It sounds like joy,” Kariũki says. Every track on this EP ventures to a different place using field recordings and vocals, audio from video as well as different percussion instruments, like kalimbas, mbira, piano, vibraphone, a drum set, and gyil (West African xylophone). ‘peace places’ has been a perfect springboard for Kariũki to explore her newfound interest in using electronic composition to celebrate Kenyan languages and places.

Written by Juan Brooks.

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‘Archetypes’ – Estère March 12, 2021


Estère is a new and truly thrilling artist from New Zealand with an amazing vocal talent and a superb sound. The single from this excellent album “The Climate In Your Skull” features a funky feel with a fantastic vocal and a great melody.
“Into The Belly Of Capricorn” ( Estère has the BEST song titles!) is stranger but very engaging and soulful again with an incredible melody. “Pelican” is more acoustic in feel with a great originality and fabulous arrangement. “Mad About Your Sea” ( title again!) has such an original and engaging opening, the tone of voice here is incredible and the lyrics are captivating. “Pomegranate” has an ethereal opening with a jazz feel and interesting changes of rhythm. “Animal Pleasure” has a superb rhythmic funk opening and a great hypnotic melody.

“Calculated Risk” has a more alternative rock feel and a hint of Bowie in its “Ashes To Ashes” loping rhythm. The vocal floats above this with great skill. “Night Crow” has an African folk song feel . Once again the rhythm carries the melodic vocal. “Red Riding Hood” has deep lyrics and a folk ambience. The synth pop opening to “Nemesis” is excellent and moves into a pop funk feel with exquisite twists and turns of melody. “Won’t Shy Away” shows the depth and resonance of Estère‘s voice with great harmonies in the chorus and another fantastic melody. When people say that there is no good new music out there these days tell them that they need to take a listen to Estère. Her music is original, her words are articulate and insightful, her voice is incredible, her melodies are beautiful and the production on this album is superb. It goes without saying that on the strength of this recording we will be hearing a lot more from this brilliant singer.

Written by Paul Bamlett.

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‘The Garden’ – Tender Central


In a world of ordinary …say hello to the extraordinary talent of Tender Central. Far and away the most captivating music I have heard in aeons. This amazing album opens with “Prelude”, a string orientated piece which provides the perfect introduction to what you are about to hear. “The Game” features beautiful vocals over a fascinating drum rhythm.
Equally original and striking is “Ashes” featuring Matthew and the Atlas. “Human” is a little more poppy in feel and is a nice change of pace at this point. Throughout the album the vocals are beautifully controlled and ethereal in nature.
“Morning” has a pronounced but very welcome Joni Mitchell feel and rhythm to it. The arrangement here is superb.
“Interlude” is a string driven piece which gives us pause before we can be enveloped by the feel of this intriguing album again. “Body” has a Celtic soul feel with captivating and thrilling melodies.

“Tender Central” features a strong vocal over drum rhythm. As with much of this recording the feel is atmospheric and minimal but deeply affecting. “Galloper” has a dance feel but with an original twist. “Hands And Limbs” features a one note piano intro which leads into a spare and melodic ballad with a string backing. The vocals are thrillingly acrobatic.
“Lion” has a melancholy feel with somewhat baroque piano , once again the vocal is skillfully delivered. “The Garden” brings us back to the Joni Mitchell feel with a sublime and intricate vocal. This , by any standard, is an excellent album India Bourne and her associate musicians have created music of such originality and finesse here that it is hard to find enough superlatives to describe it. Needless to say I shall be waiting for more of this wonderful artist eagerly.

Written by Paul Bamlett.

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‘Cloth Bound’ – Sonder Bombs February 14, 2021

Filed under: Review — justwilliam1959 @ 10:01 pm
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The Sonder Bombs have a strong sense of melody and they use it to excellent effect on this absolute gem of an album “Crying Is Cool” is a great pop song which bounces along and carries you with it. “Papillon” slows the pace but keeps the melodic sense firmly in place. “Vegas Baby” has some of the pop feel of the Go Gos and the vocals are fabulous. “What Are Friends For” keeps up the pace and quality and the drumming is key to this track. “Scattered” slows things down and the vocal is less intense but still with beautiful timbre and a lovely guitar melody. I think this is one of the most poignant songs here . “The Brink” takes us back to the more frantic but bouncy feel we have got used to early on. “Swing On Sight” is great punk pop and as with everything else here is very strong; lyrics, melody, playing …the whole enchilada! “The One About You” is a truly beautiful piece of melodic pop with a superb arrangement. The Sonder Bombs are a revelation to me and I will certainly be searching out more of their fabulous music and looking forward to seeing them live, soon we hope!

Written by Paul Bamlett

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