Brooklyn-based, Ghanaian-born Blitz the Ambassador, aka Samuel Bazawule, takes listeners to school with his particular brand of pan-African hip hop, simultaneously directing attention to key political moments and injustices, and throwing a contagious sonic dance party. His latest release, Diasporadical, is a work of prolific collaboration with artists from several metropolitan areas of the African diaspora: Blitz has sought out the younger generation of jazz musicians in New York (Igmar Thomas, Asante Amin, Christian Mendoza), producers (Optiks), and MCs hailing from his native country (M.anifest), South Africa (Tumi), Germany (Patrice), Brazil (Kamau), and even New Haven, Connecticut (Akua Naru). The unique perspectives of each performer at once shine through and contribute to the complex whole, a singular vision of Black energy and excellence.
Blitz shouts out to several continental African metropolises in “Hello Africa,” as Noah Dreiblatt helps reclaim the rapid saxophone punctuations popularized by Macklemore, an unavoidable white presence in rap in the 2010s. This competing sense of seriousness and humor flows directly into “Shine,” where Thomas's trumpet work responds to the rapper's declarations of sense of self, name-checking Tupac's “Only God Can Judge Me” and asserting autonomy amidst an infectious trap beat. Just when the production scheme gets comfortable, however, Blitz and the band leap head first into a Nigerian jújù astro-jam (“Juju Girl”), featuring a blistering blues guitar solo from Christian Mendoza. Here as on other tracks (“Running”,, “conscious” hip hop lyricism is inseparable from dancehall- and rock-imbued throwdowns.
History is a pervasive theme on Diasporadical, as embodied prominently by the choices in sampling and production therein. The “Act” introductions, marking beginnings of different sections of the album, range in texture from vocal-laden, disjointed beats invoking the work of J Dilla, to harp- and brass-heavy improvisations the call forth the spiritual and soul jazz of Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby, two of the best-known (and most sampled) women bandleaders of their era. These ghosts are “ancestors” to the project and reinforce this music's roots.
The second and third acts deal primarily with kinds of pan-African uprising and unrest, as Blitz raps on “Heaven”: “From Jo-burg to Ferguson it's all the same system.” On the same song, Tumi drops a verse on the repercussions of Apartheid and the neoliberal media's influence on popular images of South Africa, and asserts that this outsider imaginary might not be so different from domestic manipulation of the truth in the U.S. Both “Ogya” (Blast for what they did to Amadou [Diallo]”) and “(A)Wake” (“Black bodies on their knees/Black bodies that no longer breathe”) speak to the atrocious racially-influenced police killings and other forms of brutality that do indeed resonate across the diaspora.
Though such topical songs are common in our current political moment where “wokeness” (being socio-politically aware and, ideally, active) often functions as empty cultural capital, Blitz's Diasporadical offers another case for the power of sound to affect change, and that change is dependent on those who listen. Furthermore, his collective's work demands a reckoning with Black artists as irreducible because they know their own history and value, or are at least seeking to know so in ways incomprehensible by those outside the diaspora.
A short film by the artist