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“Mombasa’s Lover Boy” Review: Caleb Awiti Delivers Another Slow Jam LP

“Mombasa’s Lover Boy” Review: Caleb Awiti Delivers Another Slow Jam LP

“Mombasa’s Lover Boy” Review: Caleb Awiti Delivers Another Slow Jam LP | Afrocritik

Awiti’s Neo-Soul positively conforms to contemporary attitudes and sensibilities, but the songs in Mombasa’s Lover Boy seem like ones stuck in a soundscape you tiringly hear time and time again from the artiste. 

By Frank Njugi

To a great many music heads, the most known definition of Neo-Soul music is perhaps that by music journalist and culture critic, Chris Campbell. He conceptualises this alteration of soul and contemporary R&B as a historical and social relevance that validates its designation as the current face of alternative, progressive soul music — in both underground and mainstream circles — complete with a distinct origin and developmental evolution. Neo-soul, or Black Progressive Soul as the genre is sometimes referred to, is a genre that has grown phenomenally in popularity, making waves in regions far beyond the United States and the United Kingdom, where it had emerged as a Soul revival movement. 

In East Africa, an array of artistes in recent years have subsumed this genre of music into their art, embracing the African iteration of Black Progressive Soul music — Afro-Soul. Among these artistes are Grace Matata, Anto Neo Soul, Neema Ntalel, Atemi Oyungu, Sarabi Band, Lisa Oduor Noah, Harry Kimani, and also, Caleb Awiti, a Canada–based Mombasarian artiste.

Awiti gained recognition after releasing his debut album Ex-Tape in 2020. The project was characterised by slow-rolling beats and lyrics that explored the many eccentricities of infatuations and love. Most recently, in April 2024, Awiti released another album that uses the sonic and lyrical formula that worked for his first album. Mombasa’s Lover Boy, as the album is called, is Awiti’s fourth LP,  which presents itself as a project that shows the artistes’ unwavering commitment to stylings of downtempo Slow Jam.

Heralded as a prodigy of Kenyan Afro-Soul music, Awiti kicks off the LP — which has a tracklisting of 13 songs — with the track  “I Know You Still”.  The song is a ballad where he delectably sings about the longevity of his affection for a partner. There is an incorporation of slow-pitched piano synths throughout the song, whose aim is to perhaps act as a presage of the soundscape prevalent in the whole project. The second song, “Die In Your Arms”, is another rendition of a lush serenade, this time with echo samples that make Awiti’s vocals display a trenchant playfulness. The song’s chorus lyric, “I wanna die in your arms love, I wanna die in your arms babe”, might easily be an earworm.

In Mombasa’s Lover Boy, Awiti only collaborates with two artistes, New Jersey-born Kenyan Indie Pop act, Zowie Kengocha, and IBK. The songs, “Falling Together” and “Test Me” with Kengocha, are layered with manicured synth arrangements, different from “Dreams About You” with  IBK, which is a showcase of droopy synths. In all three tracks, Awiti is all about nudges to potential lovers and how he aims to avoid any potential miscalculation — from both he and the prospective partners —  in regards to showing their true feelings to one another.

“Mombasa’s Lover Boy” Review: Caleb Awiti Delivers Another Slow Jam LP | Afrocritik
Mombasa’s Lover Boy cover art

The fourth song in the LP, “Dont Call Anymore” and its follow-ups, “College Lovers” and “Heated” are nostalgic — the artiste seems to give a reiteration of this by making his vocals come out gilded in tight echoes. Once more, Awiti explores the quintessence of love and affection, this time exploring the constraints of failed affairs and using smooth acoustics as accompaniments. 

The most exciting songs in the album are probably “Swahili Baby” and “SBLTA”, which are tracklisted as the eighth and ninth songs respectively. Authenticity is the fixed point around which any good musical sound oscillates, so when Awiti decides to embrace his Mombasarian roots and deliver  Swahili lyrics with “ Swahili Baby”, he results in a catchy ditty whose main aesthetic is its slow, almost sensual tempo. “SBLTA”  which is an acronym for “Sweet Body like Tyla” — daringly alluding to the Grammy Award-winning South African singer, Tyla —  is a track that displays beats anchored in Afrobeats influences, with exciting and enticing syncopated drum rhythms that make for a really luring listen.

“Mombasa’s Lover Boy” Review: Caleb Awiti Delivers Another Slow Jam LP | Afrocritik
Tracklist
“Mombasa’s Lover Boy” Review: Caleb Awiti Delivers Another Slow Jam LP | Afrocritik
Caleb Awiti

The tenth track, “Khartoum”, the penultimate track, “Another Man”, and the final track, “Care For Me”, are all still soft–sounding downtempo ballads, and similarly, they all stick to what seems like the typical conscript of the tracks in this project. That is, taking sounds from vast soundscapes, modifying them by making them slow,  and Awiti using his transcendental vocals as the avatar of his artistry — taking his voice as enough to carry the songs.

But while Caleb Awiti’s vocals are adept enough to make listening to his music elicit presentiments similar to those of a delectable religious experience, ultimately his inclination to only atmospheric sounds, slower beats, and a hypnagogic kind of romantic lyricism, results in the illusion of being stuck in a tedium loop. Awiti’s Neo-Soul positively conforms to contemporary attitudes and sensibilities, but the songs in Mombasa’s Lover Boy seem like ones stuck in a soundscape you tiringly hear time and time again from the artiste. 

Lyricism – 1.1

See Also
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Tracklisting – 1.3

Sound Engineering –1.0

Vocalisation – 1.7

Listening Experience – 1.0

Rating – 6.1 /10 

Frank Njugi is a Kenyan writer, culture journalist and critic who has written on the Kenyan and East African culture scene for platforms such as Debunk Media, The  Republic, Sinema Focus, Wakilisha Africa, The Moveee, Africa in Dialogue, Afrocritik and many others. He tweets as @franknjugi.

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