Music in Words: Isabella

I had an argument recently with a popular DJ who is enviously eclectic. The more we spoke about it the more I grew agitated. It was about Sauti Sol’s single Isabella. He said it was a good song. I said the song “is not great” and  tried in vain to contain my obvious disdain for the chorus specifically. I see the chorus as a dumbed down part of the song. The DJ sees it as a ‘great capturing of the moment.’

YOLO YOLO, You Only Live Once oh,
And me I wanna have some fun
Vunja mifupa kama meno iko
Up and away we go

The lyrics state that both the DJ and I are right. Isabella is a grey ballad that greatly captures an epicurean people. It is an ironic portrait of the times, in that a sad sound tells the story of pleasure. That is the moment in which we presently live. The DJ went on to say it is a song “you let lose to. It captures that moment you have had a load of stress and you tell bae, tonight is on.” I agree. In fact Isabella plays that function too well for my liking. At the core, ballads’ roles are as follows. It has to (1) carry potent emotion and (2) become a valve to release that feeling.

Consequently, Sauti Sol could not have picked harder chords to open with. Harder, not musically but emotionally. The piano intro sounds like a sample off Adele’s Make You Feel My Love – one of the more popular songs from the 19 record. Girls I know have cried to this song. If you remind me of Adele at the start of your song, you better deliver your passion. In other words bring it! The boys do. Not nearly to Adele’s level, but Isabella is a valve for pent up frustration. You will not feel the song if you don’t relate emotionally.

I almost feel lonely as Bien floods the first verse with his apology. I wish they let that Coming Home video for which we were promised a continuation run with this song. It would be great. We would follow the guy that stole Polycarp’s girl Patricia Kihoro. I baptize her Isabella. We would hear the Casanova (since we’re being hypothetical let’s call him Waiguru) tell her the famous hedonic words that would get her pregnant and embitter Polycarp, “YOLO baby.”
Forgive me. My imaginations for this song run wild. And it is at this point in my cinematic musings I realize exactly what I dislike in the song. YOLO. Everyone loves themselves and such and such (sic). We are the people of luxuries, furnishing gratification for the 5 senses. Sauti Sol’s sixth single Isabella is our family portrait. We love how we look but hate how we feel.

All hail Hedonis

The writing hooks us on an ironically timeless mantra: live today. All hail the gods of I-want-now-never-later. They manifest in the first line of the chorus – you only live once.
YOLO has existed at decadent times in different forms, among them ‘Eat. Drink. Make love, for tomorrow we die’, or ‘It’s never that serious,’ and ‘Like it’s the last time’ and so on. Sauti Sol’s Isabella aptly mirrors a people only interested in today because tomorrow is not promised – as the line Vunja mifupa kama meno iko advises. Meanwhile Yolo is used as a verb in some circles. It is the world’s mantra by which everything hedonistic works. That place where we are ‘wild and in love’ with the present pleasure. That place where we consume and deplete. Vunja mifupa weakens the gums but what the hey! I won’t have them tomorrow anyway.

However, written in the YOLO and consequently Isabella’s fine print is a line from John Mayer’s song. The one he says, “My dear you’re slow dancing in a burning room.” Issa Juma would say, “Matatizo hayakuelezi yanapokujia.”

So Isabella is the love song you play in a Bonny and Clyde type of movie. Or to make it local, when the cops are about to arrest Wanugu and he is kissing bae. It’s the part where the star couple acknowledges death and have one more night together. It is a good soundtrack in the Imperial Bank chief’s office as he calls home before the article is printed. It is the song we dance to as news plays in the background. It is our apathy’s tune. I term it a great dirge for a hedonistic people.

Spend all my money on you baby
Cause I can’t take it with me
When I’m dead so tonight, tonight,
We are young, high and in love

You cannot fault Sauti Sol for capturing this moment. The song effortlessly and naturally does. As I am sure the long awaited album Live and Die in Afrika will. This album will be a perfect story of our times. An artist is also a mirror after all. They have grown into it. Both Sauti Sol and the anecdotes. In the Mwanzo experiments, as with all promises to society, Sauti Sol and the people were broke and hopeful. Songs represented a dream and its fruits for everyone. Quite family oriented. Then they ‘arrived’ at the dream and the family stabilized, kids in school with obvious teachings in the music. Now they have a little money and trouble all over. So forgive them if they “wanna have some fun”, sex (Nishike) , lose control (Shake your bam bam), get drunk and pass out. That is my current favorite in their second proper collaboration with the south – Tulale Fofo from Micasa‘s latest album. The beautiful marriage of S.A and E.A genres lyrically adds on to the pleasure imprint. It would be so great if they have it in their upcoming album as well.  (My bias betrays me)

Part of the process

This record will be a hopeful one, as in Mudigi’s verse in Isabella share as he longs to grow and play at U.S. stadiums. So there is still more to come. I’m sure they will admit again that at times you just want to get away from it all, so – YOLO. Pleasure will be a central subject in their album. My projection is it will represent a necessary theme of self-actualization. Live and Die in Afrika will carry a conflict between what is needed and what is right. Such is life. It is only a part of the process.
I wonder what they will create upon attaining that elusive self-actualization. I hope Chimano’s tone captures that one best, he was missing in the frontline of this single. He sang background in Isabella.