Review: Vakirai’s Self-Titled Album
A relative newcomer to the D.C. music scene, Vakirai Mawema is an Afrobeat artist—not to mention an architect by training–born in New York, raised in Zimbabwe, and eventually settled in California. In 2008, Vakirai swapped west coast for east and moved to D.C. where he began performing with the band Fat Roberta. A year later, he formed D.C. rock outfit The Honeyguns with Henry Appy and Kyle BruseHenry Appy and Kyle Bruse. Meeting producer J. Kofi Rozzell during a Honeyguns hiatus spurred Vakirai to start work on a debut solo album. That self-titled record released May 31st and a launch show will be held at Tropicalia on July 6.
While living in San Diego, Vakirai performed with The Milton Park Band whose repertoire consisted mainly of covers of the music of Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, and other soul greats. The influence of these legends is plainly evident in Vakirai’s passionate, melodic voice. In a nod to another of his musical influences, album opener “Oliver” is named for the famed Zimbabwean artist Oliver Mtukudzi.
The second track, “State of Massachusetts,” tells the story of a girl left ashore by her husband, a sailor chasing after adventure and treasure. The first verse illustrates her side of the story, while the second reads from a letter he sends home to her. “Adventure on the sea,” the sailor confesses, “but I can’t think of nothing better than that moment when I’ll see your face again.” Though the plot of the song is specific, it aptly reflects upon any instance in which love is left behind in search of opportunity.
“Michael,” a quieter song, also explores the idea of being left behind, but in a more permanent way, when someone dies. “Oh Michael, how could you go and die?” Vakirai sings, giving voice to the feelings of loss and anger that a loved one’s death elicits.
“Shine” is an uplifting song that features an African language in the background but is sung mainly in English, showcasing Vakirai’s diverse roots. This track sounds like sunshine; it has a quick beat, a celebratory-sounding horn line that builds as the song goes on, and hopeful lyrics that speak of finding new love.
“Masai” is reminiscent of “Africa” by Toto, with rhythmic background music, full vocals, and a distinctly African theme. The Masai are an East African group of nomadic people and this song tells their story, but also the story of anyone who has left the home they know. “Looking ahead / the road is long [. . .] tomorrow will bring a new beginning [. . .] and we’ll be following.”
“Tigers Swimming Upstream” has a funkier sound than the other tracks on the album, with a more prominent bass line and heavier horns. The title is a metaphor for conquering obstacles, used in the second verse and then into the chorus: “In a place where I’m a tiger swimming upstream / all the things I overhear [. . .] Don’t tell me I’m wrong / Don’t tell me it’ll be alright.” Note the sweet sampling of the gospel standard “I’ll Fly Away” at the two-minute mark.
“Lost Soul” is a grittier song, telling the story of someone trying to figure out where he belongs. It also features a funky sound, but one that’s darker than “Tigers,” using a solo saxophone to offset the vocals. The speaker has “left [his] heart in London, lost [his] soul in Paris,” and just wants to find a place in the world for himself.
Album closer, “Even After,” is an inviting love song, with Vakirai’s strong voice leading off the song, then building with more instruments to the chorus, and holding through till the end. This track shows intense feeling: “Forever with you / that’s the life I want to live / I want to give you all my heart and my soul /until there’s nothing left to give.” If “Shine” tells of a new love, this song is that same love plus twenty years—it’s incredibly mature. You can stream the song and the full album below: