Rafiya - Amazing (2010)

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Rafiya is living proof that singing with soul doesn't require overwrought vocals, barely-there attire and bombastic, auto-tuned tracks that seem to be created only to become a ringtone, not a long-lasting or meaningful hit. In fact, if the cover doesn't offer enough of a hint, she's practically the polar opposite.

Amazing is an eloquent, acoustic collection of Afro-Soul songs that she delivers in English, French and, from the sounds of it, the language of her parents homeland of Congo. Born in Los Angeles, but lacking the worldly American influence one might expect, Rafiya interpolates the differing dialects in her pert, pretty soprano and over sparce tracks featuring a strumming guitar, strings, an occasional piano or percussive instrument,  and little else. Someone with less focus and training wouldn't have been able to bring the polish that Rafiya does to this set, but her studio and touring experience with French rap sensation Mokobe and Oscar Kidjo add to her unaffected delivery and poise.

The musical bag is an eclectic one, thanks to her musical influences and many travels to Benin, Senegal, the Ivory Coast and Barbados, just to name a few. Even those who aren't proficient in those other tongues will find it hard to resist the allure of the breezy, beguiling "Je Me Cherche," the scolding "Mario," where she loves and loathes her two-timing boyfriend in the same breath, the "La Isla Bonita"-recalling "Silent Hearts" and the universal message behind the world-weary "One of Those Days," where she tells the world to back off and let her be: "I don't feel like getting in the shower. The light's too bright, I might as well close the shutters...."

She may sound a bit too naive and glib for some, too unconventional and ‘wholesome' for others, but genuine feeling can be deciphered in any language, which is what she's accomplished here. If you enjoy music from the likes of India.Arie, Les Nubians and Youssou Ndour, you'll get where she's going, marvel at her growing gift of song and want to be along for the ride of her artistic journey.

By Melody Charles

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