A latecomer’s review of Sauti Sol’s Midnight Train – Adeola Juwon
When Sauti Sol’s Suzanna came up on my YouTube Music playlist a couple of weeks ago, I was completely oblivious of their presence on the African music scene. However, Suzanna has such melodic allure that I had to pause to Google who the hell this Sauti Sol was. Turned out they have been around for a while— a four-man Kenyan Afro-Pop group which has won several awards including the MTV Europe Music Award for Best African Act and MTV Africa Music Award for Best Group respectively. A thorough listen of their discography would not only justify their awards but would leave me amazed as to why their beautiful music is almost unpopular in this part of the world—no one on my WhatsApp contact, bar one, know them. Perhaps, the reason for their unpopularity is because of their almost five years hiatus before dropping a single, Extravaganza, last year, in which they featured some up and coming Kenyan artistes. A hit in its own right, it is nothing compared to the songs in their new album, Midnight Train, which was released on the 5th of June this year.
Produced by popular music producer, Andre Harris, Midnight Train is a 13 track album with songs sung in English, Swahili and the group’s dialect, Luhwa. Midnight Train traps you in 45 minutes of elegant song writing with awesome melodic riffs as an accompaniment. Their ingenious songwriting aside, Sauti Sol takes you on a thrilling journey of melodies using African sounds.
The intro is a call for the listener to live his best life, do what makes him happy as everyone is judging anyway. It reminds the listener that he is in this plane of existence for just a while, so, ‘drink the very best wine’.
The second track on the album, Midnight Train, which the album is named after, tells the story of the group’s journey so far. The first chorus is in Luhya, but the hook quickly lets you in on what the song is all about:
‘Oh it’s unbelievable
That we make it this far
We see the promised land from afar
And it’s so beautiful
No they can’t touch the fire
And you know it’s not in vain
We steady tripping through the pain.’
Insecure is about a lover who is uncomfortable with her body that she doesn’t make love with the lights on. Here, you see Sauti Sol’s witty song writing skill with lines like, ‘When you’re naked, I see angels, and I hope you see the same’. The female lover is not the only insecure person in the relationship, the male lover is insecure that she might leave for someone who will make her happier, but despite this, the singer wishes the lover would know that her body is a movie and that she sees this light.
Feel My Love, takes on the paradox of love: the fight, the pain, the breaks, and yet, the love that remains like the sun beneath dark clouds. And Suzanna, probably my favourite song — among other good songs— on the album, begins with a guitar riff. It tells the story of a young lady, cut away from home, grinding in faraway places like Paris and London with a sponsor. The lyrics give of whiffs ofambivalence. The singers, though not approving of the character’s new frivolities of bleached skin, longer hair and the butt job she’s done, are not judging her, too. Lines like: And I see you in London, Silicon on your bum bum. Shaking what your doctor gave you .On your worst behaviour, Suzanna bhane, leaves one in awe of the group’s amazing song-writing skill.
My Kenyan friend told me the song, Suzanna, sparked a lot of controversies because of its chorus:
The word, Senje, is Luhya for aunt – sister of your father. The argument by some conservative moral police is that the song promotes incest and will corrupt the youth. The Kenyan Film Classification Board (KFCB), however, investigated the claims and concluded it does not in any way promote incest.
Brighter Days featuringSoweto Gospel Choir, the reflective Sobre,Wake Up featuring Mortimer (which could have gone with a more fitting title like Ready), My Everything featuring India .Arie, Nenda Lote, Set me Free (interlude), Rhumba Japani and Disco Matanga featuring Sho Madjozi and Black Motion are other songs that make up this amazing album.
With this striking piece of work, Sauti Sol has once again pushed the envelope forward, establishing themselves as the best music group presently in Africa, while also cementing their place in history as one of the best music groups to come out Africa. And though I am late to the Sauti Sol train, they have a drooling fan in me now.