When’s the last time you got down to some Afro-Caribbean beats? Lend your ear to the new Souljazz Orchestra album and make that day today. The six-piece band hails from Ottawa, Canada, but their influence is international. The group fuses elements of jazz, funk, Latin and Afrobeat music into a lively blend of world dance music. Resistance continues the band’s legacy of pairing infectious grooves with revolutionary messages.
From the feel-good soul vibes of “It’s Gonna Rain” to the super danceable Latin rhythms of “Soleil Couchant,” the album incorporates an impressive variety of genres. The introductory track exemplifies the Souljazz sound: danceable, brassy, funky Latin jazz. “Courage” follows suit with its vivacious rhythm as well as some kooky synths that work surprisingly well. Some songs, like “Soleil Couchant,” are much more Latin based, while others keep up a more traditional Afrobeat style. Throughout the album, the group incorporates elements of popular African dance music called ndombolo; as well as zouk, a rhythmic, upbeat style of festive Caribbean music; and its derivative coupé-décalé, a percussive brand of dance music originating in Ivory Coast.
A conflation of cultures is reflected in the mixture of languages used in the titles and lyrics. Each member contributes at least backing vocals, and the different voices and accents further add to the melting pot. The soulful female vocals of Marielle Rivard shine in "As the World Turns." On “Bull’s Eye,” it almost sounds like the lyrics are “take the bull by the hands,” adding an interesting dimension to the classic take-charge adage. But whether peaceful or powerful, it’s clear that the lyrics advocate a paradigm shift to provide justice for the downtrodden.
Bold and hopeful, the lyrics reveal the group’s political inclinations toward social justice. “As the World Turns” has a positive message about holding one’s ground during tumultuous times. However, the album is strewn with slightly more radical ideas as well. “If you kick a dog long enough, the dog bites back,” proclaims “Greet the Dawn." “Shock and Awe” manifests this power shift musically, taking a turn for the aggressive with intense rap-like vocals and a furious percussion rhythm. Like gypsy jazz punks of the Caribbean, The Souljazz Orchestra is a compatriot of genre-bending bands like Gogol Bordello and Bedouin Soundclash in both sound and spirit.
Music can be powerful medicine. Resistance is indeed jazz for the soul, meant to empower and uplift with songs of hope and resistance. The album is certainly worth a listen, if not for the message then at least for the music.