Updated: Jun 26
Review by Eazy Man
The Good: While the phrase “DON SANTO KALPOP REGGAE EP” might’ve functioned as a chuckle-worthy punchline for most of the ’90s and ’00s, it’s a concept that proves genuinely fertile in 2019. Helped along by both the genre’s spareness and the relatively low stakes that accompany solo records, Santo sounds downright comfortable here and leverages that comfort into a run of contemplative songs that play up his strengths as a producer, writer, and performer. Though you’d still never mistake Santo’s trademark whine for anyone else, his voice has aged into a softer, more weathered timbre that’s particularly suited to these Afrikana explorations; it adds extra heft to the visions of mortality on opener “Nifundishe,” as well as the heartfelt declarations of love that radiate from “Shy”.
Santo’s ear for arrangements is also as keen as he has always been; while the best tracks on Am BLACK were often bogged down by heavy, plodding pianos, those on African Lion draw their power from the signature instruments of the record’s Kalpop vibes. The convergence of DON SANTO and Vee The One on “Talk About Love” conjures images of a free and happy soul loving every piece of life. Steel guitar adds a touch of African joyfulness to “Shy” and its reflection on desire, Kalpop Reggae-style fiddle turns “Fantasmagorikol” into a reel worthy of a trad session, and when the piano does return, as on the successful track, "Teacher of The Year" its cinematic drama hits all the harder. Paired with Santo’s golden voice, these instruments elevate the record’s standout tracks and save the middling ones from the skip button.
The Bad: I was not included.
The Verdict: There’s plenty of precedent for Santo’s move to the rootsier side of the Regga
e spectrum; from Joseph Hill and Bob Marley to Lucky Dube and Morgan Heritage, plenty of firebrands have aged into cowboy boots over the years. The trajectory may not be surprising, but the move has nonetheless produced surprising results; freed from the pressures associated with being a frontman of a legacy entertainment act, Santo delivers some of the lightest, most affecting songs he’s made in years.
Stream or Download "AFRICAN LION EP";