When I first heard Space Afrika’s new album Honest Labour I fell for it and fell hard. However, it took a dozen or so listens to fully understand why, as first impressions were that it is neither fish nor fowl; not completely downbeat or trip-hop not completely rap or hip-hop. Once the scales fell from my eyes (or ears in this case) I realised that it was an entire world contained in nineteen tracks and is not in a hurry to give up its secrets. The album’s is called Honest Labour after the name of a patriarch from co-founder Joshua Inyang’s family tree, so named for his “loyalty and resilience”.
This is not an album of intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle 8-outro songs, the tracks range from a minute up to five minutes and form a beguiling soundscape of experiences, like the opening track ‘yyyyyy2222’, which pulses like a heartbeat in REM sleep or ‘Indigo Grit’ featuring guest on vocals, an ambient drift with spoken word or ‘Lose you Beau’, a kaleidoscope of half-heard whispers and a looped phrase or ‘Solemn’ a brief interlude of strings and backwards sounds. And then in the middle of the album you get ‘B£E’ which is as sparse as a wasteland and features artist Blackhaine with a stark take on inner-city life (see video below) over a staccato drum beat which is eventually drowned in strings like the heart-breaking end of a tragic film.
After ‘B£E’ the tone shifts in the album, and it becomes the “infinite nocturnal unknown”, a perfect description of the feeling that pervades the album, born out of “the isolation of COVID, compounded with the worsening winter, the songs skewed increasingly introspective and emotive, reflecting a mood of dissipating future”. Whereas ‘B£E’ contains the clatter of daytime ‘U’, featuring kinseyLloyd, sets up a somnambulist-vibe with his poetic voice treading so lightly on the backing track it barely leaves any footprints. There are the sound collages of ‘< >’ and ‘Ladybird Drone’, the bubbling clouds of ‘Girl Scout Cookies’, featuring ethereal vocals from Bianca Scout, the dark noir soundtracks of ‘With Your Touch’ and ‘Strength’, featuring LA Timpa, and finally the title track ‘Honest Labour’, featuring cello from HforSpirit, replete with tenderness and pride and a fitting tribute to its namesake.
Honest Labour is subtle and complex with what the press release calls ‘“overlapping moments” – oblique mosaics of dialogue, rhythm, texture, and shadow, half-heard through a bus window on a rainy night”. It’s cinema, or a sound-art installation for the mind. You can dip into the two tracks featured in this review but they will only give you scraps from the banquet table that awaits you if you listen to the album from start to finish. This is a strong contender for one of my top 5 albums of 2021.
Review by Paul F Cook