Mali Music - Mali Is... (2014)

Mali Music
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I begin this review with a question: Is Mali Music’s new CD Mali Is a gospel or secular album? This is actually a consequential question – or at least it appears to be. The Georgia native grew up playing in church, and released two highly acclaimed gospel albums, The Coming and The 2econd Coming, as independent projects.

I begin this review with a question: Is Mali Music’s new CD Mali Is a gospel or secular album? This is actually a consequential question – or at least it appears to be. The Georgia native grew up playing in church, and released two highly acclaimed gospel albums, The Coming and The 2econd Coming, as independent projects.

The response to those albums, as well as a breakout performances during the BET Awards week, helped earn Mali Music a record deal. His first major label project, Mali Is, has been pegged as a secular album by some critics. Gospel music partisans know how this story goes:  Usually, it ends with the talented gospel artist making a record that represents a 180 degree turn from the music that person made in the church. However, it becomes clear that Mali Music has no intention of becoming the typical R&B lothario or party anthem singer. Mali Is might not be a gospel or Christian album – and the assertion that it’s not will be debated – but Mali Music clearly has a higher calling in mind than simply making catchy, escapist tunes.

Mali Is transcends classification. It contains a bevy of genre influences ranging from hip-hop, spoken word, Afro-Caribbean, R&B and jazz. While the record might not be as overtly Christian as some might prefer, the project is at the very least divinely influenced and likely divinely inspired.

 “Beautiful,” the first radio cut from this album, is a tune that masters all of the elements of contemporary R&B right down to the catchy hook and the easy-enough-for-a-toddler-to-remember chant. Yet, this cut is anything but escapist fare. Rather, “Beautiful” sports the inspirational, affirming message of honoring the countless selfless acts that go unnoticed every day while also celebrating the people who accomplish those acts.

Like many great gospel/inspirational records, Mali Is sports cuts that can be effective as love ballads, statements of devotion from parents to children, as well as gospel tunes. A track such as “Fight For You” stands as the best example of a track that speaks on all three levels. “Fight For You” is another track where Mali Music displays his mastery of contemporary R&B and hip-hop production techniques and vocal delivery. Lyrically, it is a strong song on a record brimming with lyrical excellence.

Mali Music follows that tune up with “Walking Shoes,” an amazing fusion of jazz, funk and a New Orleans style shuffle march. This track finds Mali Music moving firmly onto biblical territory as he uses the imagery of moving toward an unknown and unseen goal as a metaphor for faith. The hook says it all: “I believe/I believe/But it’s a dream that I ain’t seen yet/Chasing a dream that I ain’t dreamed yet/But I’ma meet it halfway if I keep on walking.”

This review would not be complete without saying something about two tracks that look to old school tunes to deliver relevant, right now messages. “Little Lady” is a spoken word track that includes a sample of Nina Simone’s “Little Girl Blue.” The track plays like a conversation between Mali Music and the late Nina Simone about what women must do to navigate their way through the treacherous world. A sample of the great pianist and vocalist repeating the line “All you can count on is yourself/Little girl/little lady” is juxtaposed against Mali Music’s claim that God is raising a generation of men who can be counted on.

“Johnny and Donna” tells the story of a young couple who learned the hard way that love and physical attraction aren’t enough to sustain a relationship – especially when a child enters the picture. The track is propelled by Mali Music’s vocals and a piano that repurposes the melody of the jazz song from an overlooked film from Spike Lee’s creative period, Mo Better Blues. Those two tracks serve as obvious examples of Mali Music’s fertile mind and his willingness to find different ways to spread the good news.

Those who complain about the range of topics addressed in gospel music will find Mali Is to be a revelation. Gospel fans searching for an artist who is true to the message and R&B lovers looking for someone who can make them feel good about what they hear coming out of their speakers have a champion in Mali Music. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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