Written By: Ethan Griggs
My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com
South African singer Umlilo (or “fire” in the nation’s native Xhosa) has finally broken through the outer barriers of Cape Town’s thriving scene to become more prominent in the international eye. His new EP Aluta translates to “struggle”, and it’s easy to hear the thoughtful musings on oppression and Black youth in general. The follow up to his Shades Of Kwaai EP is a bombastic collection of Cape Town pop and R&B, and Umlilo absolutely exerts his status as one of the cities most colorful up and comers.
The EP is all over the musical map, beginning with the damp and demanding “Umzabalazo” (meaning “strike”) where Umlilo calls for revolution. The singer croons in English on the track, however, and the track is basically identical to “Reciprocity” which appears later on the record. The shrill falsetto of Umlilo brings the eeriest of Radiohead songs to mind. Tracks like “Magic Man”, “Slima Mina”, and “Awunamali” are much more upbeat and reflective of the current pop landscape. On the latter track, in a proclamation against self indulgent materialism, Umlilo raps in a drone-like tone making it the most club-worthy track on the EP. “Chick, you’re on your own, chick, you’re on your own/Call all those hotshot n***as on your fancy mobile phone”.
The best track on the record is the racially charged and sonically blurred out “Chain Gang”, which features a sample of what sounds like a newscast interview on gangbanging, a la the Fox News samples in Kendrick Lamar’s D.A.M.N. It’s the EP’s best lyrical work, sounding like an updated version of one of Prince’s hits from his heyday, mixed with some fluid rapping from Umlilo as well. “Chain gang, first thing pull the trigger/Gangbang, point blank right to the thinker/Fast life, take a bullet for a n***a/If you don’t mind dead bodies to deliver”.
Umlilo seems destined to continue on his own unique path in the international music industry. He’s soulfully contemplative and sharply bitter often in the same song, but voice and rhymes shone through on each track. He’s certainly a thoughtful young man when he’s interviewed, as he told Vice not too long ago “…I don’t want to die because I’m black, or gay, nor do I want to die for money. I’d like to live in a world where everyone is pretty much pan-sexual andro-humans who seem like they’re on MDMA all the time because they’ve tapped into their higher selves.”