Wayna - The Expats

Wayna
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Chris asked me to review The Expats, the latest project by Grammy nominated Ethiopian singer Wayna, around the same time that L. Michael Gipson’s op-ed about the crop of young international soul singers appeared on the site. Coincidence? Probably. The Expats, with its fusion of R&B and funk with world music genres such as reggae and Arabic music, pretty much validates Mr. Gipson’s thesis that the internationalists are infusing energy into R&B. Certainly, reading the piece when I did was a case of good timing because The Expats is a very good record.

Chris asked me to review The Expats, the latest project by Grammy nominated Ethiopian singer Wayna, around the same time that L. Michael Gipson’s op-ed about the crop of young international soul singers appeared on the site. Coincidence? Probably. The Expats, with its fusion of R&B and funk with world music genres such as reggae and Arabic music, pretty much validates Mr. Gipson’s thesis that the internationalists are infusing energy into R&B. Certainly, reading the piece when I did was a case of good timing because The Expats is a very good record.

Wayna possesses a distinct voice – something that might make a singer hard to market in our cookie cutter music world. Her vocal instrument is a unique combination of soft and sharp.  On “Echo” Wayna, a cut that merges reggae with east African and Arabic influences, Wayna flutters transitions, employing her vocal to caress the lyric in verses filled with vivid imagery of a quest to find the heart of her love, and then issuing a sharp edged attack in the song’s hook that underscores the urgency of her search.

The album also includes some interesting combinations. “Send It Away” is a tune with a bossa nova sway that also features a harmonica. Perhaps Wayna’s east African background – although she grew up in the US – made her open to the possibility of using an instrument associated with blues and country music of the American South with one of the signature musical genres of South America. 

The Expats includes several tracks where Wayna’s fertile imagination results in tunes that bloom with fruitful themes and lyrics. There is “Freak Show,” a song that celebrates those who walk to their own drumbeat even while they maintain the mask of mainstream respectability. Then, there is “Holy Heathen,” which is the loveliest explanation from a believer’s standpoint of why the atheist’s belief in science is itself a form of faith.

It might be a stretch to include Wayna with those international singers making an impact in the R&B world. She’s Ethiopian born, but was raised the US, attending the University of Maryland and landing a job in the Clinton White House in the 1990s. Yet, the title of her album – The Expats – hints at the fact that she retains something of an outsider’s view of her adopted home. The ease with which she fuses R&B and world music also provides insight into her global view of the art, and this gives her music a fresh and dynamic sound. In a year when we’re celebrating the rich diversity that is now soul music, this is yet another highlight. Highly Recommended.

 

By Howard Dukes

 
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