Monday, June 7, 2010

Album Review: 82-Just a Band

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: nobody is doing more to expose the best underground music in Africa to increasingly wider audiences than Akwaaba. The fair trade record label started by Benjamin Lebrave has given the world possibly their best album yet, 82 from Kenyan pop outfit Just a Band.

You may know Just a Band from their incredibly popular youtube video for Ha-He, but Just a Band has much more to offer than imitations of Chuck Norris. This album covers many bases, mixing bumping club tracks with cooler hip-hop and heartfelt down-tempo tracks. The three artists that make up Just a Band, Blinky, Dan and Jim, bring out different elements of their personality to collaboratively create a style all their own.

Just a Band accomplishes something truly impressive: they manage to create music that has widespread mainstream appeal without totally foregoing their integrity as artists. Many African musicians struggling to find their way often go for easy cop outs and cheesy effects, but Just a Band creates a production style that sounds contemporary and clean. They also know how to mesh hip-hop style lyrics in English or Swahili with R&B style vocals and electronic beats. The end result is something new and interesting you probably wouldn't expect to come out of Africa.

This album is something new and different. If you were to listen to it blindly, you might think it came from a house producer in Miami. That's what I like about it though, it's maintains its African identity while simultaneously being obviously affected by European and American electronic musical styles. While it's not easy to cross over as a Kenyan pop star, these guys have as good a shot as anybody.