There is no doubt that Janelia is an African, but she is just as much American. Her music reflects both and much more. Perhaps we have reached (or should reach) a point—as we have done with country, bluegrass and old-timey—at which we separate roots from modern, if for no other reason than definition. Janelia gets to the root of the problem in the title track, in which she sings (and very well, I might add) "I'm an African/Born and bred in the USA/Second-generation emigrant/Want to be myself in this Hip Hop world." Reggae-rhythmed, very slightly African-accented and R&B-infused, it transcends influences and lives in a world of its own. Like they say, some music is more than the sum of its parts.
That said, one really cannot ignore the influences on this album. They are heart and soul to the music and reflect a respect and outright love of heritage. Just Kala positively bounces with light rhythm; Jonpe mixes Hip Hop, simple but very effective background vocals, ska-like beat and an infectious melody, not to mention a few power chords to great effect; "Get On Down" will have you moving if not dancing (the use of voices in different combinations and harmonies is most impressive). If this was the '70s, these would be getting massive airplay, radio and otherwise.
Speaking of the '70s, Baba Wa is the modern and African equivalent to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Inner City Blues, jazzy rhythm, spoken word verse and unique chorus echoing Africa's plight. It is both cry for justice and cry for help peppered with lines which make you think. What I think when I hear this is the oh, so evident black eye given this country by supposed feeling people who sit back and watch others die, many horribly, while attending so-much-a-plate dinners, embracing economics as a savior and ignoring virtual genocide.
Vocally, Janelia shines, but more than that, she has soul. The eleven songs here are proof-positive. Eleven gems brought to life with the help of numerous vocalists and musicians of enormous talent, not the least of whom is Femi Sanya, Janelia's husband. His unerring touch, musically and in the studio, allows Janelia a true voice. It is a good voice and sometimes a beautiful and soaring voice. May her voice and her message be heard by many.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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