Reviews March 3, 2014
Tosin Aribisala, Nigerian master drummer (master of the drum kit, that is), has performed with Femi Kuti, Antibalas and many others. He's been living in Washington DC since 2001, pursuing a career as a well-known freelance drummer, an active gospel musician and leader of his own band (check out his feature in Modern Drummer). Tosin recently released Life Begins, an album of all-original compositions which feature him as lead singer as well as a drummer. On Life Begins, Tosin mixes the familiar rhythms and horns of Afrobeat with Yoruba chorus vocals and =>dundun talking drums and the backbeats, smooth keys and soaring vocals of contemporary African-American gospel, r&b and jazz. The inclusion of these sounds might deter the more hardcore Afrobeat fans out there (especially songs like "Resolve to Love," which features vocalist Kassandra Njagi and a jazzy acoustic guitar solo) but they may also win over listeners in the jazzy r&b/soul world. "Time" and the single "Heavenly," both featuring soulful singer Bumi Dada, also fit into this smooth zone. Check out the almost Nollywood-style music video for "Heavenly," which opens with a skit where Tosin plays an angry moneylender: http://youtu.be/2BzQhrejqtQ There are also some tracks on the album that present the same basic mixture of afrobeat, Yoruba soul, African-American gospel, r&b and jazz, but instead highlight the horn section and Tosin's strong vocals and dexterous drumming. The result is strong, beautiful music that confidently crosses borders. The opening track, "I Will Be There 4 U," rides a funky afrobeat/gospel rhythm, with an intriguing opening line shared by piano and bass. This concept is further explored in the tune "Fitila-Paradise (Suite)" and "Oyinmomo in Da Groove," an instrumental featuring Tosin's expansive gospel-style drumming, a keyboard and sax solo. "Ire Ire (Blessings)" is a modern take on classic Yoruba highlife music, capturing all the positivity and joy of the golden age of highlife. The album ends with a beautiful, quiet song, "Epilogue (Immigrant's Blues)," just an acoustic piano and Tosin's soulful voice, referencing traditional African-American gospel/blues traditions with a mastery born from experience. At the end of the song, Tosin flips the language to Yoruba, but the blues plays on... Tosin has created a unique hybrid sound that reflects his musical experiences as an African immigrant in the U.S. Overall Life Begins is a broad musical work, with plenty of diverse styles and pleasures.