Thursday, July 2, 2020

The jazzy side of Shanti Lo

I often get a feeling that every musician has a jazzy side that they keep safely locked away in case of an emergency. Hahaha! I do not think there is an exception in this statement. A musician may be singing mostly all other genres for almost 99% of their music career, except jazz. I have seen this happen with Brenda Fassie. I guess it was one of those nights; she did Everything Must Change composed by Benard Ighner and left everyone in trance.

I have been following Kagiso Tumediso Loeto aka Shanti Lo for some time now and in all honesty, I was waiting in the hope that at one point that jazzy side of him will show its head. Patience paid off and he delivered Music, an album with such a powerful lyrical content. Of course, it would be ambiguous, and to a great extent absurd, to expect an all jazzy album from him because that would be taking away from who he truly is, that is, musically speaking and what his followers have come to expect.

Therefore, I have focussed largely on the tracks simply dubbed Wena Tsala (You Friend) and Never Believe. Once a friend shared an analogy of an onion and that its layers are always fascinating because the outer one is exposed to all sorts of conditions and it is what we often base most of our opinions on. What we do not see is the freshness and purity of the layers that are revealed underneath as one takes time to work the onion to its core. Shanti Lo’s lyrical content, regardless of genre, deals with every situation like layers of an onion.

Wena Tsala is for the brave at heart and only those in search of the truth about themselves. I suppose those who frequently carry out a self-introspection would have no problem relating to its lyrical content. The message is delivered with such panache which, by the way, one would rarely find with most artists. Of course, at one point jazz and blues singers like Billie Holiday were just outright blunt about it. But Shanti Lo has a gift of voice to soften the heavy blow of his message.

I love the old-style backup vocals which is almost in all the tracks. The selection of instruments and especially the laid-back and well-pronounced basslines add that much needed touch to the music. The fact that his music is based largely on Setswana lyrics makes it interesting because I do not believe the same lyrics would carry the same meaning in any other language. I guess it is one of those ‘lost in translation’ interpretations.

A lot has been written about Shanti Lo and I would like to avoid duplicating the efforts. That being said, there are other aspects of his professional life that are noteworthy. There are those individuals who go to school to perfect a profession or career. And then there are the likes of Shanti Lo with a natural gift. His creative ability as a lyricist is top shelf material and very rare. Of course, I expect professionals to argue that point based on his personal life experiences. The difference for me is that, there is only a handful of us who can translate our emotions into words and still maintain a reasonable and realistic meaning of what they are saying. This is what separates him from most.

The use of his voice as a tool changes everything simply because of the way he delivers his music. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote what seemed to be a controversial article about jazz being not a music genre. One of the things that came out from the article is that one cannot view jazz in isolation and box it into a genre. Shanti Lo is a classic example of an artist who has demonstrated this point beautifully by incorporating it in his music and lifestyle with a long list of accolades across different areas of life and just about everything. This, one can see in some of his achievements and please allow me to point out a few. Through the Adopt a SchoolProgramme, he adopted Boiteko Junior Secondary School. He is a patron of Ambrose Trust Fund. He has also stretched himself to other areas such as fashion and textiles. One thing that stands out is his commitment to academics as a guest lecturer. When I went through his profile, I was just asking myself where he gets the time in his obviously busy schedule to be doing so much. Even with that workload, he still found time to record 4 albums.

He has an amazing power of positive energy that seems to surpass any possible obstacle on his way and you can almost touch it in his voice when his speaks.

So, why did this article make the It Has To Be Jazz® project review? Shanti Lo represents what both the music world and serious listeners need at one point in their lives and that is, positive energy that constructs.

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.