It is the age of the globalization of the “afro pop” sound and many top African musicians are poisoning pop charts and mainstream music channels with their infectious home-brewed melodies, rhythms and stories. The world is paying more attention to these organic vocal structures and drum patterns inherent in African music for the basis of the summer jams and club bangers, rather than sampling and distorting rare records, as it happened in the past. This access to a wider audience, facilitated by the internet also means that there is now more space for variety in the African music landscape to be exposed, encouraging mainstream anomalies. Enters Shekhinah, a young woman from Durban, South Africa weaving platonic melodies through an open heart surgery on her major label debut, numbing the pain with soul.
Her 12-track debut album titled Rose Gold released via Sony Music Africa is a breath-taking laid back, sultry RnB record where the artist cherry-picks lyrical structures and influences from early 90s RnB and New Jack Swing to more poetic and expressive Neo Soul to engineer a moody and atmospheric rap sung, sonic landscape over which she asserts her uniqueness and dives into her personal narrative of growth and maturity, love and loss.
The album unravels on the second track, Into the Jungle, a charmingly soulful cut slowly simmering with syrupy melodies that erupts gently into a slightly up-tempo jam. The song sketches the character of the record with a seductively mellow atmosphere layered with pockets of wrapped vocal samples and tamed trap claps and 808s as Shekhinah surf’s the sonic wave with her silky vocals. The next song, The Sound, sees her speak a bit more about her creative process. The relatively calmer cut is a bit steadier with warbly lines and funky, space age guitar chords that clear a path for her voice on the song. She also goes into the process of creating this new sound and “never wanting to lose this feeling”, perhaps, the weightless feeling as one is about to take flight, almost comparable to the state of Shekhinah’s career, about to soar into new heights.
At this point on the tape, Shekhinah has firmly established her sonic and lyrical perspective, with bewitching melodies that oscillates between summer ready pop cuts and more idiosyncratic, moody heartbreak RnB joint. She steadily swims between these polarities with extreme precision that you almost do not notice how expansive the intended audience for the project is. You still manage to find a song that speaks to you on some level, be it on the more radio-friendly cut, Suited or the more melancholic and withdrawn, Rose Gold. Indeed, Rose Gold’s musical footprint bears a striking resemblance to more independent, self-released neo soul and RnB like some of Tinashe and SZA’s earlier release, despite this being a major label debut with Sony Music Africa.
On Rose Gold, Shekinah assets more than her vocal dexterity, as being an gifted vocalist is what has gotten her his far, with multiple awards and chart-topping singles. She attempts to epitomize and communicate a unique musical identity in a sonic landscape that welcomes difference and encourage alternate forms of expression. Her rap sung verses are quite expressive despite being mildly poetic. At one point she is teasing out the angst that comes with the uncertainty of being a young creative attacking a hydra sized industry, and at another point on the tape, she opens up about the vulnerability that comes with falling in and out of love. This ability to be open with herself and lure her audience into the mirage she stitches from different realities elevates the appeal of her music beyond plastic pop to a much more tangible and soothing soul.
Despite being an amazing body of work, it’s hard to ignore how certain facets of Shekhinah’s identity and musical heritage seamlessly go missing on the project. There is very little evidence that points to the physical location of the narrative she weaves so beautifully on the album. You do get a sense of the age of a sound, as something that floated from the alchemy of Velvet Rope era Janet Jackson and modern causal RnB like Tinashe’s Amethyst or Efya’s TINT. However, where does Shekhinah locate herself in these soundscapes? There are little traces of the unique experience on young South African artist on the album, despite vague references to being an african queen in certain verses. Indeed, this might be an offshoot of the globalization of the afro pop sound where artists barter the idiosyncrasies of their sound for a global appeal and in the process lose the qualities that magnetized their cult follow to them. Rose Gold if far from losing its cult following, but still lacks certain key landmarks about the setting of the sound.
With few bumps along the groove, Rose Gold is an easily enjoyable record by a young artist with so much promise. Concluding in just 41 minutes, the album quickly warms up to you by being honest and relatable whilst sculpting a welcoming soundscape littered with a well-blended variety of moody and cheerful sounds. For Shekhinah, Rose Gold is an exposition of her unbridled talent, glowing in its own light.
Listen to Rose Gold here!
Written by: Hakeem Adam
Images: Elizabeth Donnell