01 September 2008

Monday's mp3: Labor Day USA

Today is Labor Day here in the USA, the equivalent of May Day in much of the rest of the world and a day when one is supposed to take the day of and celebrate the accomplishments of workers and (if you're not a corporate fat cat) the achievements of labor unions.

In truth, it's a day of when many in the US just go shopping. Or take one last vacation before the start of school. Or sit around and watch sports on TV. And here I am, hard at work bringing you global music; I hope you appreciate it!

Suzzana Owiyo has been compared to Angelique Kidjo and called "the Tracy Chapman of Kenya." I don't know about all that. But this Kenyan singer-songwriter-guitarist has a sound that gracefully blends traditional and modern instruments, creating a unique sound. One of the best features on this CD - and one of the most unusual to Western ears - is the use of orutu, a one-stringed fiddle that sometimes sounds like a Brazilian cuica, sometimes like a human voice.

More liner-note details on the instrumentation would have been nice and several tracks wander dangerously close to cheesy pop. But the compelling music does convey a sense that Owiyo is singing from her roots. While the Luo-language lyrics aren't translated, the summaries tell of universal themes: don't hurry, value wisdom, love your family, child labor is bad. And some not-so-universal themes, like "Kisumu 100" urging investment in the city on the shores of Lake Victoria, or "Suna Ka Ngeya" describing insect infestations. A promising, if slightly uneven, debut from an African artist to watch.

[mp3] Suzanna Owiyo: Sandore
from the album Mama Africa

I'm told this song has a video with some hard-hitting images regarding child labor, specifically "the plight of house girls at the hands of their employers," but I've been unable to locate the video online.

Since the release of this album in 2004, Owiyo has released a second album called Yamo Kudho and, in partnership with Mbilia Bel, an EP called Koko Ka, neither of which I've heard (anyone care to help with that problem and send music?)

Owiyo video of the song Koko Ko (feat. Mbilia Bel)
Owiyo's website: www.suzannaowiyo.net
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