Sauti Sol is probably one of East Africa’s oldest music groups. Having met while students, the four have gone on to do what Sema, Wakilisha, Wanaume Family, P-Unit, Ngoni or even Blu*3 didn’t — stick together. Formed in 2005, the band has gone from being an acapella collective to one of the most recognisable music brands.
On Friday, the group dropped their latest album, Midnight Train, which according to the band, represents their journey burning the midnight night oil in studio. They compare it to waiting for that one train that travels at midnight and as the train moves, you gain new territories and meet new people.
Sauti Sol have had many brilliant albums; many with different representations, for instance the 2009 debut album Mwazo was experimental both with instrumentation and message. It was the same case with Sol Filosofia two years later.
Most of the time, the group has been pushing the creativity envelope with concepts that were too early for their time. But even with such an artsy background, the group knows when to press the reboot button. For example, at the end of 2011, they arrived with ear pleasing songs such as Range Rover, Money Lover and Summer Love.
The six-song EP had introduced them to a different kind of audience, one that has stayed with them through two continental successful albums; 2015’s Live and Die In Africa and Afrikan Sauce from 2019. The two albums were a rollercoaster for the band in many ways, singing with people you may not have imagined— Khaligraph Jones, Bebe Cool, Patoranking, among others.
Midnight Train sounds like Sauti Sol touching base with what inspired them before the fame and international success. The album tries to capture the dreams of boys that would have sacrificed anything to get their voices heard to another boy’s admiration.
Before the album was released on June 5, the group had given us a sneak peek into what it was about with releases such as Better Days with the Soweto Gospel Choir, Insecure and Suzanna, which partly has guitar references with Franco’s Mamou.
Voices from the heart
The album picks a lot from the band’s earlier days and improves on it; the simplicity, the melodies and production values manifest artistic maturity. It is an album that tells their different stories; regrets on songs like Sober, calling their audience to understand them in Feel My Love, and entertaining them with Disco Matanga alongside South African rapper Sho Madjozi. The song is not new, especially for Netflix subscribers who may have heard it as a soundtrack for the streaming giant’s African original production Queen Sono.
But all that aside, Sauti Sol have in the years mastered singing to women, thus, even when they are singing to themselves, Kenyans or the continent, they will personify all this into some sweet heart. For example, Suzanna and Insecure seem to directly preach to Africans to shade all the accessories that have robbed them of an identity but the way they mask all this message into a girl is simply brilliant writing.
At the beginning of the year, the band announced they had signed to Universal Music Group. This was almost eight months after they had unveiled their record label, Sol Generation with artistes Ben Soul, Nviiri the Storyteller, Kaskazini and Crystal Asinge. In fact, they announced the label with a song, Extravaganza — they had spent most of the year promoting their under cards that it was hard to imagine they would still settle and release more Sauti Sol music.
Clearly, that was a wrong assessment, with Rhumba Japani, they bring out the entire Sol Generation, which proves the label and artistes are probably an extension of each other.
Will the album produce radio anthems? That could be asking for too much but it will indeed become a classic, if it is not one already.