Diving into conflicting emotions of displaced souls, Ivorian artist evokes the wonder of life.
The release of this album on International Women’s Day speaks volumes of its creator’s relevance and her striving for liberation on every level possible. No surprising, though, for a singer born in Côte d’Ivoire and residing in the Bay Area who knows too well the plight of refugees to feel their pain, which is why “Yita” – meaning “Deep Water” – is dedicated to African and Middle Eastern migrants, ones that lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean. Yet there’s more to it than simple documenting the tears; there’s vigorous joie de vivre oozing out of Ms. Tchaco’s best record to date.
Quite deliberately, Fely’s forceful voice is set against the purely percussive, polyrhythmic backdrop of opener “Ato Lagoh” only to get fleshed out with entrancing sisterhood chorus – an enchanting entrance to her peculiar world. It marries what’s still considered as an African-flavored exotica of a rustic sort to contemporary urban grooves, which transpire as soon as “Cawe Yoko” picks up the pace to take the listener to an outdoors dancefloor where electric guitars pirouette. The six-string swirl will turn into acoustic lace to pour romantic anguish into the sublime blues of “Blamer Les Autres” whose sweet, if spiritual, uplift seems to measure the distance between Abidjan, Paris and New Orleans, while the tight beats of “Zante” are drenched in a Latin aroma.
However, the epic “Djebi Dje” streams a spoken-word story through its disco strut, before “Zaouli” offers a drum fest and call-and-response, contrasting the solemn flow of the album’s title track which soars on silky synthesizers. A pity, then, that “It’s Never Too Late” conforms too much to modern chart demands to remain special, and “Kubeli” is too steeped into electronica-tinctured mix to land properly on traditional roots. But these roots are as strong here as Fely Tchaco’s will to succeed in her art and in her humanitarian endeavors: she’s truly an outstanding person.