The award winning afro-pop band Sauti Sol, hail from Nairobi, Kenya and have been topping the charts for more than a decade. Long-time friends Polycarp Otieno, Savara Mudigi, Willis Chimano and Bien-Aime Baraza, cemented their place as one of the leading bands from the continent and the upward trajectory fuelled by their ‘church of good vibes’ ethos wins them fans all over the world.
After years of independence, Sauti Sol recently signed a recording contract with Universal Music Group which will be the home of their fifth studio album, Midnight Train, recorded in Nairobi, Kenya and Johannesburg, South Africa.
You can count on Sauti Sol to deliver music from the heart and Midnight Train, does not stray from the formula. “Suzanna,” the infectious first single is testament that the group doesn’t shy away from pressing societal issues. The song tackles the controversial phenomenon of sponsors/blessers. With their clever irreverent lyrics and sharp wit they poke fun at a woman who is a beneficiary of the champagne life as sponsored by an older man.
I see you in London/ silicone in your bum bum/ shaking what your doctor gave you… You change your skin colour/ and your hair is longer now. Then I see you in Paris/ standing next to the Champs Elysees/ looking sexy in a mini skirt – they sing cheekily. The accompanying video, directed by Leke Alabi-Isama, was shot in Nigeria. “It’s more comic relief judging by how they are styled in the 70s disco ball chic complete with puffy colourful men blouses, large ‘fros and perms. ‘It’s also a reminder of the good ole days of how stylish Africans were.” comments Bien.
Grounded in the spirit of hard work the title track “Midnight Train,” produced by Andre Harris (H.E.R., Michael Jackson, Chris Brown), is a representation of their never-say-die attitude. It’s about their hustle and the effort they put in their business burning the midnight oil. “It feels like there are a lot of good things happening around us. We are headed to Zion and Zion embodies reaching the apex in our country and the continent,” says Chimano.
Savara adds: “We have worked so hard for every single coin we earned. Everything has been a sacrifice. What we do represents the new age, the Sol Generation and our legacy project – Dope which stands for Discipline, Order, Passion and Endurance.”
One exciting collaboration on Midnight Train is with the Grammy Award winning Soweto Gospel Choir on the song “I Believe.” Chimano argued that the pop scene in Africa neglected choral music as performed by the likes of the Choir and they initiated the move to bring the mellifluous voices on to the song that tackles positive affirmation and mental health. Burna Boy also guest appears on the track “Time Flies.”
More collaborations come in the form of Sho Madjozi and Black Motion on “Yambakhana.” Polycarp shares: “They were on our list of musicians we wanted to collaborate with and it finally came to pass. We love South African music and it is one of the sweetest artistic heritages on the continent.”
Power ballads don’t come as strongly as “Feel My Love” anymore. The group was deliberate to craft a soaring boy band ballad when they set out to record the song. The most poignant part of the album comes with “Sober” – a touching and sincere song about repentance as a young man as he tries to pull his life together and make amends to those he’s caused enormous pain. At a time when men are expected to improve their interpersonal relationships, “Sober” galvanises all efforts of those wanting to make a change to do and be better.
Singing in Swahili, Luhya, Luo and English, Sauti Sol prides themselves on storytelling as an East African tradition that permeates music from that region and this is what has kept them relevant with audiences across the world and earned them accolades along the way. Their award cabinet overflows with trophies including AFIRMA 2019 – Album Of The Year In Africa and Best African Duo, Group or Band; AFRIMMA Best Group in 2015 and Best African Group in 2016, MTV MAMA Awards Best African Act Award in 2014 and again MAMA Best Group Award in 2016 to name just a few.
Midnight Train is a wholesome album and a milestone release for the group. It is inspirational and uplifting and offers much needed social commentary while not losing its universally global appeal. “There is a lot of maturity in the album, states Polycarp. “We have come of age and we express how people should perceive us freely after 11 years as professional singers. Every song speaks to an issue that is relatable to everyone.”