Ghanaian-Hungarian singer, Sena Dagadu is clearing her own sacred groove in the growing neo afro-soul scene. The long-time member of indie band, label and incubator Irie Mafia, spreads her wings towards new horizons on her latest release, Feathers. The afro-soul songstress’ third studio album is a compact yet explosive exposition of the growing afro-soul sub-genre which encourages experimentation with the traditional soul sound.
The 11-track independent release was recorded live with 11-member band, Irie Mafia and treats listeners to rousing liberation anthems and reflective ballads. The album opens with the slow yet insidiously burning You No Ready, a note to Irie Mafia’s more reggae inspired work from the past. However, the LP leans towards a strong afro-soul and fusion sound with some moments being deep jazz fusion cuts reminiscent of some Snarky Puppy releases whilst other take you back to Lauryn Hill’s neo-soul magnificence and even negro-spiritual, hip-hop and Spanish influences are reflected on this body of work.
The third track on the tape, Something Sweet, perfectly illustrates the alchemy Sena Dagadu pulls off on Feathers. The song begins with temperate jazz drums loops and icy piano chords led by mellow bass riff, before bursting into life with the sudden rousing appearance of the trumpets, who Sena Dagadu tames with her controlled vocal delivery. She tastefully and gracefully glides over the ensemble of instrument who seek to replicate the positive mood she sings about. Play (Pa Ba Ba) is another moment on the LP to savour. The improvisation that comes with working with a live band creates one of the most beautiful moments on the tape from something that feels like a transient interlude initially. The freedom of expression particular from the vocal work and the xylophone scales feels like something a band plays whilst warming into a gig. However, by the second verse, it evolves into a warm ballad where Sena Dagadu flexes her dexterity in manipulating notes.
Although Feathers is her third studio album, listeners are given a complete baptism. The artist’s charm resides in the sheer power of her voice and how she is able to weave it with splendid dexterity into warm and cool moments whilst flying above all the other instruments on the band. She mirrors her bright and energetic personality in her direct and sincere vocal delivery. This facet of Sena Dagadu’s artistry comes in handy especially when she steps on to the stage. Her recent show in Accra to mark the release of Feathers, brought this explosive energy and stage craft home on the back of a spellbinding animated background design.
The album explores the energy that comes from freedom and liberation as Sena Dagadu contextualises these abstract concepts and feelings in aspects of her life. Boats On The River for instance resembles a modern-day negro spiritual with the pacy country guitaring accompanied by the imagery of impending escape and the need to capitalize on the opportunity. This historical allusion is also present on the cheerful Holding On, that reflects the African-American experience in the charismatic folk, choral delivery that feels very much like an evangelical musical session. This thematic thread is matched by the other stylistic choices as Sena Dagadu explores the possible outcomes of liberation from the soul sound by blending different genres from punk rock to afro-pop on the record.
As a body of work, Feathers is as good as they come and comfortably etches a place close to the modern African soul stars such as Asa, Fatoumata Diawara and Nneka. The only major criticism about Feathers how slow and almost lethargic the rollout has been. However, this is understandable, given that Irie Mafia might not be operating with the same financial strength as other labels and is relying on the massive grass-root support the imprint has garnered over time and propelled them to international success. Nevertheless, it would be awesome to see Sena Dagadu garner the traction that creating such an important body of work should come it. Regardless, Feather will still be a joy to anyone who engages with it.
Listen to Feathers below and buy it here!
Written by Hakeem Adam
Photo Credit: Artist website.