World music, along with hip hop, is quite possibly the most abused and misunderstood label in music. That’s not the fault of The Kafa Beanz, a collective of MCs, singers and producers, who could stake a claim to be the future of either genre. They blend Ethiopian Jazz, soul and hip-hop together to create an ambitious album that’s constantly shifting between the music of their land of origin and their adopted home.
Of course, this isn’t the first time this has happened, but what adds a real edge to The Kafa Beanz is their strong female contingent – MC B.Sheba, and singer, Wayna – who play deliciously off their male counterparts, Gabriel Teodros and Burntface. B.Sheba comes hard on the mic, while Wayna’s got the voice of an angel. She shines brightest on “Rebel,” where her soaring vocals are juxtaposed with searing lyrics from AP on finding a place in a country which has so abused him and his forefathers. It’s this social commentary, once known as “conscious hip hop,” which gives Andromeda much of its potency. They can be provocative (“America, was it ever this home of mine?), they can be dry (“this ain’t South Park, I ain’t Starvin’Marvin”), they can be irreverent (“I rock like Saddam, presidential like Obama”). They’re rarely irrelevant. When combined with a bouncing afrobeat that propels the aptly named “iRock,” or the equally fly, er, “Fly Away,” The Kafa Beanz really do transport you to another dimension.
However, it’s not a pace they can maintain for the length of the album. Too many tracks don’t take off from the groove they kick off with, while too many refrains are repeated over and over again. It’s as annoying to hear as it is to read. It is especially frustrating, because like the little girl with the curl, when the Kafa Beanz are good, they’re very good (“iRock” is a late contender for one of the tunes of the year) but when they’re bad, they’re awful. And it’s especially frustrating because The Kafa Beanz are a group you want to succeed – we simply need more people to make this sort of music and address the issues they do. Fortunately, Andromeda is the first Chronicle of Blackopia. I’ll certainly be checking for the second.