On Lion of Sudah, Bensoul shows the mettle he is made of. He is proud to show his flexibility with genres. On this album, Kensoul creates something for everyone. And at the end of the spin, we have a total package….
By Emmanuel Daraloye
The 20th of April, or 4:20, is set aside every year to celebrate the smoking of cannabis. As the world celebrated this big day, Bensoul, an artist far away in East African Kenya, chose to release his new album, The Lion of Sudah. In many explicit ways, the album pays tribute to weed, and preaches for its legalisation in Africa.
Born over two decades ago to a chorister mother and a choir director father, Bensoul had music all around him. While his mates were still grappling with sand and other things to play with, Bensoul already found solace in music. His formative years were spent in the church, and with the two key people in his life already into music, music became an easy task.
Bensoul found joy in music. His early influences contributed to his expansive sonic range. His latest album, for instance, is a mix of diverse sounds and genres with few features.
Bensoul had recently concluded his five-year record deal with Sol Generation, owned by legendary Kenyan group, Sauti Sol. While fingers are crossed on what is next for him, The Lion of Sudah ranks as Bensoul’s last body of work under Sol Generation.
Bensoul took the popular adage that says “you are as good as your last release,” to heart with The Lion of Sudah. The album is difficult to pigeonhole into a uniform genre. Bensoul shows his versatility. After Burna Boy, and perhaps Show Dem Camp, Kensoul ranks high in my list of artists who know how to create an album.
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A crowing cock welcomes you on the first track, “Dreams.” Bensoul opens with a solemn cry on the intro track: “Say a prayer for me/On a night like this… If you’re holding back my love/Oh, I beg you release me.” That opening, along with an exquisite choir vocal delivery on the silky-smooth production, welcomes the listeners, and perhaps gives them a glimpse of what to expect in the next fourteen tracks.
Row, Row, Row Your Boat, a popular English nursery rhyme and a popular children’s song, gets repurposed on “Row,” with input from Mordecai Dex, and Okello Max. The trio skillfully detail a sexual time out in the bedroom. The melodious hook easily flows on the thumping-patterned production.
Bensoul, with help from backup singers, pours out his emotions on “Napepea.” It features a sing-along type of hook. The melody and emotion deployed in the song makes it more memorable.
The crowing cock returns in the opening seconds of “Somebody New.” The first verse of the song finds Bensoul singing about love, life and the Afterlife. Although he laments about the cost implications of love, he still finds it worthy of exploring. Lyrically, “Somebody New” is a sleek attempt by Bensoul to sing about what love entails: the good and bad.
On “Mida Ya 420,” Bensoul lights up the torch on the criminalisation of marijuana. With a production that is steeped in trumpet, baseline and drum, Bensoul largely relies on Reggae to create this song. The message is not forceful; yet you can’t miss it.
The guitar-pivoted “Legalization” is a brilliant rendition that calls on the government to decriminalise weed. Bensoul also sings about the social and economic impact of the plant amongst the populace. “Legalization” is one of my finest weed tracks in recent times.
Bensoul teams up with Bien, a member of Sauti Sol, on “Navutishwa,” a soulful and emotive composition that showcases the two artists’ talents as singers and songwriters. “Navutishwa” is a testament to Bensoul and Bien’s talent as artists, and their ability to craft emotive and soulful music. Their smooth vocals, expertly crafted production, and heartfelt lyrics make for a compelling and enjoyable listening experience that is sure to resonate with fans of soulful music.
The midpoint song, “Melody,” is a brilliant rendition of choristers, with additional support from Bensoul. The ethereal production is balanced up with Bensoul’s exquisite vocal inflections.
“My Boo” is a bright addition to a wedding playlist. Bensoul’s captivating vocals are upended by a punchy guitar.
Revered Kenyan vocalist, Xenia Manasseh, becomes the yin to Bensoul’s yang on “Chizi.” The track which celebrates love and attention finds both artists leveraging each other’s strengths, and complementing them to fashion out a soulful track.
“Same Page” finds Bensoul at a vulnerable place. He goes deep into his emotions to create this track. The song is helmed by singer, Muthaka, who brings an animated feeling to the tune, taking it to another level with her feminine perspective. Muthaka’s verse is more or less a response to Bensoul’s.
Bayanni, the Mavin Records-signed artist, brings his sonic arsenal to play on “Dondosa.” The slow moving tune is upended on a percussive production.
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While the trumpet-powered “Hatujachelewa” is a soulful and emotive track that captures the essence of true love, “Viva La Vida” is Bensoul’s attempt at creating a party track.
The last track, “Miracles,” is an anthemic, personal epistle to himself. The track serves as a memoir, with Bensoul giving the listeners a glimpse of what he has passed through in the course of his music journey.
I have been wowed by just a handful of 2023 releases: Timeless by Davido, West African Goat by PayBac Iboro, Gangster Romantic by Lojay. The Lion of Sudah has become one of them. Bensoul sounds so thorough that you would ponder on the reason his music is not widely spread like Wizkid or Burna Boy.
On Lion of Sudah, Bensoul shows the mettle he is made off. He is proud to show his flexibility with genres. On this album, Kensoul creates something for everyone. And at the end of the spin, we have a total package.
At just seven minutes and a few seconds short of an hour mark, The Lion of Sudah might be considered too long in view of the current attention span of music listeners. I think if he had made the album shorter, it would have greatly helped the album’s cohesiveness. The artwork of this album projects Bensoul as an old soul. He transfers this geatric taits to the content of the album, too. The tracks on the album would dominate the music space for years to come. Bensoul has proven to be that legendary.
More than five years after his signing to Sol Generation, it is exhilarating to listen to Bensoul’s debut studio album. The days of releasing singles and extended plays seem to be over for good. Now, we get to listen to Bensoul in a full length project, and did he deliver!
Lyricism – 2
Tracklisting – 1
Sound Engineering – 1
Vocalisation – 1
Listening Experience – 2
Emmanuel Daraloye is Africa’s Most Prolific Freelance Music Critic. He has over 500 album reviews in his archive.