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Let’s get Free

by Roger Young / 27.04.2010

In the future Uju will want to re release Free without the ear wormy track “Narcisse” and the irritating “Amsterdam”. But they will be unable to because these soon to be radio hits will be not only what people ask them to sing when they recognise them in supermarkets, but the songs they owe their fame to. The great pity about Free is that, because of these tracks, the really superb soulful jazzy rocky songs on the album will be mostly skipped over by the public at large.

Free’s mix of influences; from Jozi hip hop and slam poetry, to rock, jazz and maskandi, result in an afro poppy feel. It’s an immensely accessible album, and remarkable for the amount of sing along songs that have a social message. Part, however, of Free’s accessibility results in a lack of lyrical inventiveness, with certain concepts not bearing as much interrogation as the force of the songs imply, on some tracks (In particular “Amsterdam”) it can be quite embarrassing.

The title track “Free” and “Thath’ umthwalo” have an almost prog-ish feel, while “Last Night” tends toward reggae. “Onions Emvuleni” and “Iqhalaqhala” are the standout tracks on the album, scratching, ululating and a super tight bass line on the latter and the soulful building lament of the former, illustrate just how good Uju can be when they stop trying to be eclectic, to include everything and just let the influences flow together.

The semi auto-tuned “Narcisse” talks about the hunger for status and riches but is so painfully constructed to be a radio hit that it loses much of it’s message, while upbeat sing along “Last Night” sneaks in a much more complex social message artfully and exquisitely without the self consciousness of “Narcisse”.

In some places, “Free” feels conceptually under developed, sometimes musically, sometimes lyrically, but on the tracks that do come together perfectly it is a glorious soulful afro pop explosion.

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