The Souljazz Orchestra

Last week on OKP there was an entertaining review of Funkommunity’s debut LP that basically ran: great album, shame about the band name. Which, without wishing to rile members of either outfit, is pretty much the same position we find ourselves in with Solidarity. For if, like me, you’re in the unfortunate position of being previously unfamiliar with The Souljazz Orchestra, you could be forgiven for expecting a certain style of music from them. You know, some soul, some jazz, perhaps some orchestral arrangements; something that’s nice and pleasant on the ear. No bad thing, sure, but that’s not what The Souljazz Orchestra do. At all. Solidarity is a straight up funky, raucous, dancefloor-troubling, riot-provoking monster of an album.

The main inspiration is afrobeat – the pace, the horns, the politically inspired lyrics and the Fela style of declamatory vocals – but what marks Solidarity out is the way its sound is as ambitious and diverse as it is cohesive. As befits an album inspired by people coming together across the world to mobilize for positive change, Solidarity embraces music from across the globe – reggae, highlife, semba, samba, salsa, dancehall, biguine jazz and more. And to their great credit, The Souljazz Orchestra have invited musicians hailing from Senegal, Brazil and Jamaica to join their ranks. The results are spectacular.

Solidarity is a driven by a power--a righteous anger at the state of the world--that cannot, and will not, be denied. Music is The Souljazz Orchestra and their comrades’ weapon, and their weapon of choice is the horn. “Bibinay”;  “Conquering Lion” and “Kelen Ati Leen” all boast staggering horn lines, while on a slightly deeper level, “Jericho” is a reggae-tinged number inspired by the Biblical story of the city’s walls being brought tumbling down by horns.

But, as irresistible as they are, there’s much more to Solidarity than a raucous horn section. “Cartao Postal” is a samba/semba joint where the spirits of Jorge Ben and Fela Kuti meet. “Tanbou Lou” brings some creole flavor to the party, while “Nijaay” is a beautiful way to close the album, a forlorn lament with a heartbreaking guitar line and vocal.

It’s a sobering counterpoint to the riotous nature of the rest of the album, which brings us back to Solidarity ’s central concept – injustice, inequality and the need for us to come together to change this. And what better way to inspire the world than with music as powerful as this?

- Will Georgi