Song of the Month: February 2018

By Eóin Donnelly

As they tend to do, my New Year’s Resolution of writing as often as I possibly can took a major backslide in February. In my defence I had a lot on my plate, with a trip to see Kendrick Lamar perform in Amsterdam- not to mention an experiment with psilocybin mushrooms that still has my brain tailspinning only half-inside the enclosure we call reality- and preparation for a DJ set for a work event made much more intense and sleep-depriving due to the indignant misfortune of having to rebuild my entire iTunes library from scratch after my external harddrive defecated all over itself. With the bar in a separate room to where I was laying down the vibes, in the League of Pointless Endeavours I’d have to place it somewhere between the Iraq War and Eminem’s totally unpalatable latest album Revival. I wish Marc Webb was there to direct an Expectations v Reality scene. I imagine the Reality half would’ve ended up looking a lot like the caravan episode from The Inbetweeners, except instead of tossing my shoes around the few children present were requesting I play ‘Despacito’ while everyone else queued for a much-needed drink.

It’s a good thing my will is unbreakable, as it has certainly been out to the test in recent weeks. Alas, here I am ready to deliver another edition of Song of the Month. Last month, the inaugural feature was won by a TDE artist via SiR’s languid slow jam ‘D’Evils’, and at risk of becoming typecast this month is no different… well, sort of. As the defining cultural moment of 2018 so far, it can only be a song from Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther soundtrack. In my review of the soundtrack, I bestowed ‘X’ with the honour of being my favourite song on the entire album. On ‘X’, Kendrick’s hook asks if we’re “on ten yet”. In my review, I never even mentioned Zacari and South African artist Babes Wodumo’s ‘Redemption’, my Song of the Month for February 2018, but it is clearly on level eleven joy at least and it doesn’t have to say so. It’s funny how perceptions can change, but the Black Panther soundtrack was never meant to be enjoyed in a vacuum, with the film it accompanies being a rare example of justifying the hype as well as being powerful enough to alter how I experience Kendrick’s Black Panther soundtrack album.

Like many, I was enraptured by the movie’s gorgeous Afrofuturist cinematography, emotionally invested in the tension in character dynamics between the stoic protagonist T’Challa & the vengeful anti-hero Erik Killmonger that bore striking similarities to Martin Luther King & Malcolm X, and sparked into deep thought by a script that had both thematic familiarity and contemporary relevance. With nostalgic feelings of love for my favourite childhood movie The Lion King present throughout the film, a new curiosity in authentic African culture was sparked in me, and I have spent the last few weeks broadening my knowledge and appreciation for music across the African diaspora.

‘Redemption’ is not a popular pick as the standout track, but in terms of capturing the unique sense of unity through musical culture that Africa represents, there is no more fitting song to have you putting plans of sunny beaches to the side in favour of a less luxurious yet surely more spiritually fulfilling experience. The song feels more African than any other on the album. I have never been to Africa, but when I do go I’ll be playing ‘Redemption’. For best results, play alongside Toto’s ‘Africa’. Just a scintilla of Babes Wodumo’s euphoric gqom stylings was enough to make me dig into her entire discography, and while it may at first be strange to hear music so unambiguously jubilant from a rapper whose success is built on expressing the barriers to happiness, it’s a transition I’m all here for as long as Kendrick seems to be having so much fun making it.

Unadulterated joy is perhaps the most difficult emotion to convey in music, or in anything. How do you describe any feeling, lest the most fleeting of ones? All I know is that not even the most accomplished wordsmiths can communicate that feeling as well as melody and instrumentation can. All I know is that when Babes Wodumo’s elusive Zulu tongue commands everyone to say kikiritiki, I don’t know what it means nor do I care. All I know is that when Kendrick’s cameo esoterically instructs the listener to get higher and higher and higher again, I know that we gonna be alright. The dirty drums, the piano glistening with purity and Zacari’s achingly soothing vocal says everything ‘Redemption’ needs to, the specifics stop mattering and I can visualise so clearly and so colourfully the most basic yet most satisfying elation there can be: everybody of all creeds, colours and nations having a great time with me right in the middle of it all. Unless you prefer a bunch of maniacal, sweaty strangers elbowing you during a Skrillex set that is. Each to their own.