Album: Return to Love
Label: Otarel Music, 2011
By Mufu Luvai.
With a professional music career spanning a little over 10 years, signed by Sony Music Africa, Lira is undoubtedly one of the fastest growing music brands in Africa. She is the second female African artist, since Miriam Makeba, to grace the stage at the Taormina Film Festival in Italy, for the sound track Feel Good in the movie The Italian Consulate. The same is also used in Girlfriends, a US sitcom. She performed at the FIFA World Cup Kick-off Concert alongside Shakira, Alicia Keys, John Legend and K’Naan. She has accumulated a myriad of music awards, both as a musician and philanthropist, and has been the face of a number of respectable brands, including Audi, Samsung and Blackberry. Lira also commands a large fan base on Facebook, by Africa standards. So when Blankets & Wine announced that the South African Afro-soul singer will be gracing this month’s festival, her Kenyan fans were not going to let her down.
Return to Love, released early last year comes after two consecutive successes with Feel Good and Soul in Mind. Much of the content, namely When I Dance, Phakade, Call Me, Love to Love, touches on love, hence the title. Lira maintains her vocal prowess, but veers from the native languages more than ever before, perhaps seeking to achieve global reach. Phakade (Zulu for Eternity), is about the blessings that come with finding your true love. Mali, a funky contemporary Nguni song, is a conversation with money. The shakers and ethnic guitar riffs provide the much needed African retro groove.
This album, supposedly an expression of her found self, bravely explores other genres beyond her comfort zone, such as funk in Get into Action and ragga in Valley of Darkness, which explains why the musician frequently goes bungee jumping even though she is extremely terrified of it.
While the music still maintains its afro-soul smoothness and jazzy inflections, Lira’s maturity comes through her pen work. U & I and Get into Action advise us to reach out and change the world, standing together to make a difference; sings Lira, “Let’s make today the day when you and I change the world”. Spoken word creeps in for the first time:
Consider what can be done when we stand together / Do what you can with what you have, where you are right now / coz it’s you and I, yes, you and I, we can start a brand new chapter / Because all things are possible when we stand together /let’s choose to be the change we want to see /
In this album, Lira deliberately tries to drop the “Sade effect” that laces some of her prominent works such as Believer and Ixesha. While this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it is Afro-soul at its best. The production excellently depicts the direction modern South African music is taking. Will the emerging innovative styles threaten Township and Mbaqanga music into extinction? Only time will tell.