"I always thought that Africa has the rhythm and Europe the harmony," says Sierra Leone's Anthony Seydu Zachariah about his debut release, Freetown. Seydu's musical mixing is a bit more complex than that, and both pleasant and exciting, rock and reggae stylistic influences grounded in complex hand-drum percussion. His vocal is light and sunny, with a bit of sandpaper rasp to it, at times reminiscent of Bob Marley's, delivering lyrics in English, Spanish, and a surprisingly clear Creole. The result is a pop sensibility with depth and interest, musical fusion transcending mere roots exploitation, and the listener comes out ahead.
"Dance of Night" grafts a voudou dance theme to lively rock dominated by crisp hand-drum percussion and a sinuous, Santana-like electric guitar. "Palm Wine Talk" is more of an exposition of Seydu's vocal, an a cappella effort enlivened by breathless scat percussion and some smooth chromatic vocal chording, all too brief. Breaking waves and mbira usher in "Mamawata," a pretty, skipping waltz prayer to Yemanja, sea goddess, plucked bass providing some nice leads. "Ju Ju Man" kicks up the energy once again, a driving dance number with everything, to go: it begins with a brief choral, followed by an mbira and berimbau introduction to rolling rock, featuring a lively brass section and jazzy trumpet and saxophone solos. The title track closes Freetown with a percussion-backed a cappella tribute to home and musical influences.
A colleague once dismissed African music to me as "too ethnic," by which I understood too challengingly exotic. On Freetown, Seydu presents sounds whose popular attributes will even draw the hesitant in to appreciate their underlying richness and variety. - Jim Foley
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