Review: @AmbasaMandela’s Ona Sasa EP (by @lamusicjunkie)
Feel free to quote me on this : the most unforgettable albums are ones where artists pour their entire souls into it. They freely let you see their struggles, their demons, their beliefs, their lifelong mission – basically what goes on in their beautiful minds. It’s like having a deep intimate conversation with them, whenever you choose. That is how Ona Sasa is for me.
Thank my lucky stars, I got Mandela’s EP right after the December 15th launch at Alliance Francaise. Kenyan music legends H_art The Band, Fadhilee Itulya and newcomers Cheif and The Marshalls set the stage as the prince crowned this big step of his solo career. I tell anyone who cares to listen, it was the most magical night of 2017.
You must have heard the news of Sarabi band, yes? After years of making conscious Kenyan music together that moved crowds and hearts all over the world, they called it quits last year. Well Mandela did for his own reasons and decided to go solo.
He did the right thing. This album, sorry EP, is a pure testament to it.
From the onset, it’s slow and soulful. It doesn’t take over your senses with unnecessary noise and excess beats. Instead, it naturally penetrates your soul with its raw Africanness. It’s almost something your ancestors and their ancestors would have made if they were still alive (and weren’t brutally colonized).
You easily hear all the musical elements in the mix, from keyboard to percussion to guitar to horns. Sweet flute sounds draw you into the title track Ona Sasa. In the repetitive chorus, the electric guitar takes center stage. The sultry saxophone steals the show in the bridge.
“Ona Sasa vile tunaweza inuana”
“Usilinginishwe na wengine, wewe si kama wao”
The EP gets funkier in the second single What Do We Do. Here, Ambasa Mandela (Akello) injects a healthy dose of Luo that sounds so sublime rolling out of his tongue. In the reflective song, he asks – This world is going crazy, what do we do?
In Accident, the conscious musician and social activist calls out those who hurt others intentionally, even boda boda riders. Before you do something destructive, first think about yourself and others. The sobering message is carried along by a smooth melodic tune that makes you sway side to side like it’s rumba. Muziki bila jasho.
“Accident, what is an accident?”
Nataka Wewe is easily the standout track in the EP. Maybe it’s the reggae beat that takes over from the 26th second. Or that it’s the perfect African jam to serenade your (dream) lover.
For 4 whole minutes, the reggae jam grooves your whole body and soul, not just your love-thirsty heart.
“Nataka wewe, we ndio raha yangu.”
After calling out our vices, Mandela unites us Africans in Hakuna Matata. This one has much simpler lyrics and is more light hearted than the previous tracks; infused with a punchline that will stick with you throughout. And if you’re keen enough, you’ll hear the marimba a.k.a. xylophone dancing playfully with the guitar riffs.
Did you know he first recorded the upbeat jam and shot a simple music video with Sarabi? (there they go again) In a recent radio interview on USIU Radio, he said it was one of his favorites – before he proceeded to sing it live in his honey-laced voice. No wonder it was performed as the final song during his EP launch, twice!
“I didn’t come here to fight with you, I don’t see the need for complications”
Fantastic Love starts out softly with a gentle piano, almost making it sound like a ballad. It’s only after the chorus that the instrumentation gets heavy. I forget what he said the second verse, sang in Luo, means.
The catchy chorus oozes so much love and happiness – which is what he’s all about it. You could feel it floating all over the air on that unforgettable Friday night at the Alliance Francaise garden. It’s a healing song with the most powerful message.
“You can be loved, only when you love yourself. You can be found, only when you avail yourself”
Just from his music, you can tell Mandela loves himself, a lot. And he wants you to do it too. Love yourself that is.
24 minutes later, the African magic is over. Finished. 6 songs just doesn’t feel enough. You almost want to ask, where is the rest of it?
Then again you remember it’s an Extended Play, not an album.
Ona Sasa feels like a guide for every modern African in this crazy world. Wisdom from a big brother packed in a musical collection about how to live in peace and love. A conscious reminder to take care of others, and most importantly love yourself. Sounds hippie I know, but that’s where we’re going. Back to our roots.
According to your signed copy, you will see it was recorded in Wanene Studios in Tanzania. This is where he got in touch with his African roots and formed a new family.
While writing this Kenyan album review, I replayed it on my laptop way too many times. Other than singing most of the lyrics, it still felt like the first time. It seems authentic music never grows old.
This 2017 EP won’t make you dance like your favorite Afrobeat jam. However, it will move your entire spirit and make you feel more African than you have felt in a while. It is the true embodiment of African Fusion.
It wouldn’t be too presumptuous to call the 27-year-old Kenyan musician a living legend.
After soaking his new conscious music into your bloodstream, you will want to make up for all the Sarabi band concerts you missed. You will probably watch all of Mandela’s live performances and listen to all his radio interviews. Okay, almost all of them.
But if you’re like me, Ona Sasa is a deep conversation you will treasure for the rest of your life. Follow Prince Ambasa Mandela’s adventures on Instagram and listen to his moving sounds on SoundCloud.
About the author
Joy Ruguru is a young Kenyan writer and radio presenter with an unhealthy addiction to music. Hence, her friends like to call her The Music Junkie.
Catch her on the entertainment and lifestyle blog LaMusicJunkie creating themed music playlists, or gushing about local events. Or both.