Suthukazi Arosi, singer, performer & actress from South Africa where she has a ‘legend’ status. Internationally known for her Lion King & stage performances, social activism. Musical ambassador to her country and Ubuntu - humanity towards others.
I came into contact with Suthukazi Arosi's 'Naked', not knowing what to expect. If one had prepared me for a taste of Brenda Nokuzola Fassie, I would have approached 'Naked' with a mind prepared. However, this isn't Brenda Fassie's style; at least not entirely. The album places Suthukazi in the league of Afrocentric musical artists like Lagbaja, Fela Kuti, Angelique Kidjo, Ali Farka Toure, and many others; of course, Brenda Fassie included.
'Naked' starts off with 'Bayete', an ambient audio recording of a traditional South African setting. It got me thinking of a dawn in some rural South African settlement, the clapping of hands, the chanting in prayerful greeting of the new day, the lively breakout of the day's activities which any African can naturally relate to.
Very likely, it's a theatrical ploy to impress upon the listener the roots and essence of the album. And to further underscore this point, 'Bayete' seamlessly builds up into 'Isoka Lami'.
It's 'Isoka Lami' that got me thinking of Brenda Fassie. It's very much a fusion of traditional South African folk song with contemporary rhythm so musically appealing that you simply can't keep from swaying in the celebratory mood of the song.
There's this thing with good rhythmic music of legendary nature; most times your brain doesn't comprehend it as much as your soul does;
This is exactly what I'm trying to explain about 'Isoka Lami'. Lyrically, it sounds to me like an ode, an enchantment. The chorus is ever complementary, solidly inlaid in the background, all in all, contributing favourably to a song that apparently advances past regular entertainment.
In 'Ayeza' Suthukazi veers off folk rhythm and leans more on the contemporary hip-hop style, but lyrically maintains her chant pattern.
It's only reasonable that a music album offers a mix of styles with the intention that listeners don't get bored of a monotonous listening experience. 'Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela' does just that. It offers a sudden shift from the track list. An acapella in honour of Nelson Mandela and his legacy to his countrymen.
The song is sung in the mood and tone of a dirge with vocals so natural, consistent and melodious. I'm of a certainty that this track will someday be adopted into the list of the national musical treasures of South Africa, the rainbow nation.
If 'Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela' is a shift in style, then 'Unity' is a farther shift much more aesthetically appealing than all previous tracks on the list. I mean, talk of milk and chocolate and we will be talking of 'Unity'.
This is the first of its kind I've ever known; a fusion of masterful Jazz and traditional South African music. Very moving, as much in lyrics as in its instrumental accompaniment. The chorus could transport a listener elsewhere. 'Unity' is a song you perform on a music concert and get the audience swaying and tapping along. But then the album doesn't end there with its experimentation with Jazz and folk.
'Igeza Lendoda' follows immediately after on the track list, but with a high tempo. It sounds very much like contemporary Gospel music. I love the saxophone interlude most especially; emotional.
Still on shifts in style, 'Black and White' starts off very much R&B. The selection and arrangement of sounds is nothing short of tastefully informed, quite out of the ordinary. I will love to draw parallels but I'm at quite a loss. Hence, I'll rather say that it's a great song, rhythmic and melodious. And Suthukazi being a musical non-conformist, brings the song seated astride R&B and South African folk music.
Jazz, Hip Hop, R&B ... It would not have been complete without including Blues. And for an experimentation with Blues, the album offers us 'The Philosopher'. Bluesy Jazz, melancholic lyrics, astounding piano accompaniment, original vocals ... ambitiously Suthukazi. At some point the song takes on a Jazz mood, spicing up the atmosphere, and then it falls back into Blues. Creative. It's like a mind surf, but with the wind steering the listener through crests and troughs.
One would have thought Suthu would be done with ambitious experimentation in blending varied music genres with South African folk. But here she comes in 'A Little Bit Of Love', whipping Disco into Jazz, with a generous handful of South African folk thrown into the mix. It's nothing like I've musically encountered, and it's quite a great job holding still with the music playing. 'A Little Bit Of Love' is one of those songs that invite your body to move and give form to the feelings that strike your soul.
The track, 'Naked', features a dramatic beat. Fast-paced. I like the drum beat. It is masterfully played, and blends in perfectly with the vocalist's pace.
'Transeki (Interlude)' is more of a chant against an atmospheric background complete with sound clap and a subtle drum beat. It's audibly scenic, conjuring up a picture of some traditional African setting with the people in the mood of worship. Still in the same spirit is the closing track, 'Isoka Lami', offered. It sets off with a folk chant but then takes on a contemporary Jazz mood. Artistically ambitious.
The album, 'Naked', is my first musical encounter with Suthukazi Arosi, and in my opinion, 'Naked' is artistically ambitious with an Afrocentric core. This may be Suthukazi's style. It still may not be. However, I'm very much impressed with this album. Subsequent musical offerings will reveal if this is her style. On the other hand, they may tell if 'Naked' is merely a success achieved in musical experimentation across genres.
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