South African native Themba burst onto the scene in 2018, supporting compatriot Black Coffee on various tours and releasing a distinctly upbeat flavour of Afro House on labels such as Hot Since 82’s Knee Deep In Sound, Herd and Yoshitoshi.
2021 is off to a great start already, with 3 singles already released from ‘Modern Africa, Part 1 – Ekhaya’, in what promises to be an exciting collection of many parts.
A delightful first LP from Themba; ‘Ekhaya’ is definite Afro House, but more than that, littered with beautiful string sections and a range of soulful vocalists providing depth and originality.
Colours kicks things off, a radio-friendly cut, opening with a downtempo heartbeat of a kickdrum and emotive strings leading into J Something’s heartbroken vocal.
An extended mix of ‘Sound of Freedom’ follows, the first single from the EP. Sweet, summery sounds of warm piano riffs are complemented by a beautifully arranged string section and soft vocals from Thakzin that belies the energy that finally explodes with a traditional 4/4 kick drum after almost 3 minutes of introduction. Orchestral, rhythmic strings and a soulful vocal provide a rich dancefloor-friendly number with hints of Afro Jazz.
‘Izindly’ is the first new full-length track on the LP, this time featuring Lizwi (who previously appeared on Vanco’s 2020 hit ‘Zamekile’). A slightly lighter affair with a flute providing evidence of further Afro Jazz influence and, by now, somewhat familiar string rhythms anchored by occasional piano chords.
A third vocal provided by vocalist Brenden Praise provides a radio-friendly album track in ‘Ashamed’, a mellow downtempo affair with a broken beat. Piano keys and a jazz guitar break through some soft synths, an interlude of sorts in a thoroughly enjoyable Afro tinged summery track.
Back to business with ‘Mountain High’, the second single from the EP starting off with a ravey, yet soft synth sequence accompanied by gentle piano chords and the return of Lizwi with a distinctly African vocal. When the percussion kicks in we’re treated to a horn section that adds an almost latino party vibe to proceedings.
‘Reflections’ is a sort of ballad, downtempo effort with a sultry soulful vocal from Thoko, the most recent single from the LP at a gentle 110bpm. A muted kick lets the strings shine through with emotion, another gorgeous arrangement that brings a cinematic vibe, with a touch of gospel backing vocals to finish off the track.
‘Heavy Weather (Coming up for Air)’ completes ‘Modern Africa, Part I‘, with some African percussion and sounds from the bush. Thunder rolls in with a lone trumpet echoing nostalgically in the distance as we await the rains. ‘Heavy Weather’ sounds indeed as though it’s on its way. However, things don’t get too heavy musically. A disco-like string sequence to go with the rich percussion is as far as it gets. No bad thing, a nice end to a half hour glimpse of Themba’s Modern Africa.
‘Ekhaya’ is an impressive first LP, far from average Afro House. Numerous string sections whose complex and beautiful arrangements wouldn’t be out of place in a Craig Armstrong score elevate the listener with a depth of musicality not often found in the genre. Excited to hear the future parts of Modern Africa.
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