“Life is a party so put on your dancing shoes and get ready…” belts out Kenya’s leading Afro-pop group Sauti Sol in ‘Sambo Party’, one of the tracks on their new album Live and Die in Afrika. True to this call, the album puts together an entertaining showcase for 61 minutes. The much-awaited album brings out the best of the band that has had a great run in 2015.
For fans, the fun is endless. With a variety of genres ranging from Lingala to salsa beats, Afro-zouk to dancehall beats, Live and Die Afrika will get listeners on their feet. The album, their third studio production, was launched at an exclusive listening party on 20 November 2015 in Nairobi. The 15-track album is the group's first self-produced effort, with expert co-production from renowned Kenyan producers like Kagwe Mungai, Cedric Kadenyi and Ulopa Ngoma, among others. It includes their hit singles 'Sura Yako', 'Isabella', 'Nishike', 'Shake Yo Bam Bam' and 'Still the One'.
The album is a celebration of Africa, flaunting its richness in cultural diversity, talent and resources. “Our continent has come of age. For a long time, our story has been told for us; it’s our turn now to tell it. For a long time, our problems have been solved for us; it’s our turn to solve them,” the quartet says of the album.
While many will enjoy that they can listen to a variety of genres, all well-delivered by the band, for others the combination of various sounds risks becoming confusing or even frustrating. For instance, the title track is a mash-up of sounds from all over Africa, with a heavy central and southern African influence. For listeners it might take a while before one can understand their direction. As a single the track feels a little too 'busy'.
The band has also done a bit of sampling here and there - and this may also put off more people. ‘Its Okay', a song about lovers going through challenging times, kicks off with a Lingala beat that people familiar with the Franco and TPOK Jazz single ‘12 600 Letters’ will easily identify with. The song proceeds with a salsa rhythm. While the band's decision to combine the sounds that characterized their childhood is great, the listener might be left nostalgic for the music of the past, rather than current trends.
It's also laudable how the band uses their music to pass on messages - for example advising young people to be what they want to be - without being too preachy. The song 'Sambo Party' has a fun and danceable rhythm, with lyrics told from the point of view of someone from a poor family. “Mama was a dancer, papa was a gambler. They said to me, you can be all you wanna be," the song proclaims.
As has become tradition on Sauti Sol's other albums, the new release also has a single for spiritual nourishment. ‘Kuliko Jana’ is a beautiful song carried by heartfelt vocals and featuring well-known Kenyan artist Aaron Rimbui. In this song the band acknowledges God as their saviour who will enable them to be better with each passing day.
The journey from the launch of Mwanzo in 2008 to Live and Die in Afrika has seen Sauti Sol evolve into a far more mature team, who have proven to now be able to attract a global audience wherever they perform.
The album has been released digitally via Africori and is on sale now at iTunes. Physical copies of the album will be available for purchase at a later date from Nakumatt stores in Kenya. The group will make the physical copy in three different forms: a CD that will be sold to the general public, a limited edition leather casing copy that will be made available once fans register on Sauti Sol’s website, and an exclusive wooden casing copy with a personalized engravings to be given to a chosen few.