Eli Live - 'Hey'

By Moses Abeka
Artist: Eli Live
Album: Hey
Label & Year: Atom Studio, 2015

Hey album cover. Photo: www.cdaby.com
Hey album cover. Photo: www.cdaby.com

In an era saturated with soulless music and copious upstart singers vying for the coveted “next big thing” status, Eli Live is a refreshing exception. His 2015 album Hey is proof that Eli is one of East Africa's artists to watch in 2016. The 14-track album by this 26-year-old Ugandan with Kenyan roots was produced by Ugandan producer Kaz Kasozi and mastered in Germany at Atom Studio. 

The album is an interesting addition to the Ugandan music scene. As the country's middle class grows, the rise of corporate culture has become synonymous with a demand for live music. Meanwhile, more working class Ugandans meet in the evenings at hangouts to loosen up to soothing sounds - a serene way to retire after a long day of work. In this vibrant atmosphere, a soul album comes in handy!

Singing a hybrid genre, Eli Live effortlessly blends R&B and soul with local influences. His smooth voice reaches impressive falsettos to complement his deep lyrics. He sings about love, reconciliation and perseverance. Hey is a blood-stirring assembly of fineness, robed in intricate guitar rhythms, soft drum pulsations, trumpet melodies, tingling piano keys and hazy bass wafting through the background. The acoustic effect forms a soft, textured background with a lively aura. This diffuses a vague scent of a bar scene - perhaps in a Texan cowboy movie.  He weaves his lyrics in, and out, decorating the album with colourful, picturesque diction that is contemporary and steeped in the bellows of poetry.

'Grateful', the lead single on the album, ushers the listener with smooth guitar rhythms. He blends Swahili and English, which gives the album a rich appeal. Other tracks like ‘Pole Pole’, ‘Jichunguze’ and ‘Penzi la Dhati’ are mainly in Swahili. In ‘Hey’, ‘Fairy Tale’ and ‘Peace Surpasses’, the artist makes his mark with distinct, narrow vocal range and vibrant adlibs. ‘No Idea’, a song that embraces a more upbeat tempo (unlike most of the songs on this album), is likely to get many playing it over and over.

Born to a Kenyan father and Ugandan mother, Eli Live started his career as a dancer and a back-up singer in his family’s band. He blends neo-soul with African rhythms as a better way of staying true to his roots and making his identity discernible. “I believe music is a language for itself - one that can be translated into words occasionally," says Eli of his new album. "I hope that each of my songs grows into its own story in your soul and speaks about something that you feel, know and have experienced." 

The album is hinged on the power of live instruments and a great voice. Perhaps it could have been even better if the artist worked more on the ambience, but the beauty of the album is that the artist manages to inject a soothing, relaxed and stimulating effect into each song, one that reaches into the listener's heart. His themes draw from a wide range of topics revealing a robust, well-travelled mind. It encapsulates accurately and honestly who he is, both as a person and as an artist.

The album is available online for purchase from cdbaby.


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