With their latest album Midnight Train, Sauti Sol have provided a fantastically cohesive and entertaining work that is a thrill from start to finish. The band’s authenticity is exactly what the East African pop music scene has craved since their debut album Mawazo in 2008.
Back then, Sauti Sol was a sharp singing group bolstered by the precision of a newly minted pop juggernaut. Their hits were inescapable. The slow-tempo deep cuts such as ‘Lazizi’ were fascinating experiments for a young audience. Still, they did not make quite as much an impact in the region as they should have. Four albums down the road and they are older, with a knack for appealing to a wider generational spectrum.
Midnight Train does everything but chase popular musical trends in Kenya. The album is 42 minutes long and represents the group’s earnest effort to diversify its sound. The offering presents a work that is dynamically and inspirationally diverse. The success of the single ‘Suzanna’ earlier in the year hinted that that album was going to do well, but now that the single is accompanied by 12 equally strong compositions, this album is definitely one of the release highlights of 2020.
Each track has the capacity to stand alone as a single, and much of that is owed to the catchy and present guitar lines that tie the whole album together. The vocals continue to grip listeners’ souls, and the storytelling is vivid and imaginative, propped up by well-written lyrics.
The title track is preceded by the album’s intro, with the two tracks complementing each other for a powerful start to the album. ‘Feel My Love’, ‘Sober’ and ‘Insecure’ provide the emotional clout and in areas fall into the tear-jerking ballad category.
The record goes spiritual in ‘Brighter Days’ featuring the Soweto Gospel Choir. It is a song that portrays people’s determination to progress in spite of adversity. The verses drive home the sentiment that not everyone is up to making lemonade when life delivers lemons, but it is important to remember that setbacks are temporary.
Another track worth mentioning is ‘Rhumba Japani’, which will please older fans. Influenced by Congolese rumba, it is a testament that the group’s members are still in love with the music they grew up with. Nostalgia is a powerful force.
It would be disappointing if Midnight Train finished in anything other than dramatic fashion. Thankfully, the group signs off in style with the truly energetic ‘Disco Matanga’. Featuring South Africa’s Sho Madjozi and Black Motion, it is arguably the most successful collabo on the album and one that shows Sauti Sol’s ease in working with artists from different genres.
Midnight Train is a truly massive album and represents Sauti Sol’s magnum opus. It is a fantastic summary of the band’s accomplishments so far, and charts a path towards an exciting new era for East African pop.