The long wait finally came to a close in early September. Rash, a band that was formed roughly three years ago gave to us, only a few survivors, a labour of love.
Initial reports suggested that the album was to drop sometime last year but the departure of founding bassist Sebastian Filardi meant that the release had to be pushed down along the timeline for newcomer Jonah Mwendwah to be familiarised with the songs which had long been composed even before the band started playing live.
Most if not all of these songs, have been played live by them, or released as a single. The expectation was that once an album is launched, that the band would be on the road with some sort of tour to support the album. But Rash’s brand and the songs that make up this record are already well known. Their strategy, whether by design or by accident has been to popularise each song individually, well before the release of the full album. A large portion of the songs have music videos, “Usiku Mbaya”, in my estimation being the best music video of the lot. So, if you are a keen Rash fan this album may feel very familiar since most of the songs are already well known to you. Despite that there are two or three songs that give a sort of freshness to the record. Songs like Dream Chaser and Animal man have been released as singles but are relatively new to audiences. Pasala Bien and Night in the rock bar are completely new songs that will give fans a reason to purchase this album because of the different dimensions they add to Rash’s sound. There are little nuances they add as well as exploring new ideas with these two songs. But overall their style remains easily identifiable.
Individually, the tracks in the album all have something to offer audiences, bordering on classical rock and roll themes like the nightlife, evil and darkness, despair, as well as the anti-establishment/feel good dimension. There is a loose concept in all of this meshwork of ideas. That of a troubled person, journeying, trying to find a home away from home. But there is despair in what lies ahead, and a sadness in what has been lost. There is much to be enjoyed in the quagmire, there is fun, self-belief and redemption. But it can go either way. You can either be totally lost or redeemed. The band seems to believe in both.
The album starts with this very tender intro composed by their producer Leon Malu formerly of Mortal Soul (I still don’t know if they are in business). It has a nice progression to it, from celestial peacefulness then to a sense of impending doom.
The same sentiment is replicated in Pasala Bien, a song with a bouncing acoustic riff accompanied by the laid-back attitude of country and then throttles full on into grunge rock. Sam Warui flutters with those vocals once more. He seems like a man that is feling himself but wouldn’t you feel yourself if your voice could do these sorts of stunts?
There are also songs that one can completely rock out to. Let it be rock, for instance. It has an element of punk to it. The tribulations of the working class and college students more like protest music that empowers by making the listener aware of their ability to break down the walls around them, tear through the traps and ease across pitfalls unscathed. The drumming is exquisite, not a touch too much. Even classy and explosive at some points with a good pace to give the song a real punch. It has taken two years to warm you to it but I now see it for what it is.
The crowning jewel in this compilation is sons of robots. It sounds better live but even here the bass makes up for any inadequacies. The music video could have been better, I felt, they didn’t do much which the story. There are points in the song which are unnecessarily complicated, in the solo, vocals and some of the riffs too. However the solo unlike the other aspects redeems itself, by peaking at an absolute high.
‘Dreamchaser’ is the most enjoyable song of the lot and also has the most expressive lyrics in the entire ensemble. Sam Warui seems very convinced by the words. He portrays a sort of foresight, an awareness of an impending breakthrough. There are times in the verse that he makes it entirely clear to us how this endeavour is a scary and tedious task. You may even die along the way. But he is convinced that breakthrough will come. ‘We’ll be playing stadiums soon’ Maxx tells me. And with this kind of unshakeable resolve to be the best thing you can ever imagine being, is what the song is about. It is your motivation, that even when you fall, you won’t be destroyed. Motivation is always there for those who seek it.
A song that I have to mention, that I’ve never warmed up to is Beer Party with its corny title, I feel is the most unconvincing of the lot.
Usiku mbaya is like Michael Jackson’s thriller if it was done by AC/DC. It has a new darkness to it and the version of the song that’s in the album is much longer than the one Rash released as a single. One is immediately assaulted by a sort of depressing darkness. In that bleakness, Maxx solo rips apart the fabric of reality with an electrifying solo. Rash use shock value and fright to depict alcoholism. Where one could easily lose their sight from a swig of kumi kumi or another cheap brew with a sarcastic name like ‘Yohana Mtembezi’.
Rash don’t stop here with their fear factor and prattle on with this theme in other songs like Msafiri (which is a sister song to ‘Usiku Mbaya’ with the theme of a lost home, the darkness of the void and despair taking a turn in the arena again. and just like in most of their songs, Rash employ Swahili ideology to portray their story. The choking fear that hangs over Msafiri for instance is that of the Zimwi (Swahili for a malevolent force). A force that is unseen but its present felt. The story is told much like the folk myths that riddle our cultural landscape like ‘Nyamgotho’ and the kind of stories that would be told around the fireplace while a lost cow makes a chilling moan in the distance and crickets chirp in the nearby thickets. It would be the story parents would tell to their children of the errant son that pursued music and lost himself. He couldn’t go back home because of the shame despite knowing that he was doomed in his endeavour. They end by saying his voice can still be heard like static speaking incoherently, yearning yet hopeless from that dark dimension.
Msafiri and similarly, Darkness and Witchcraft, are the way our generation tells its stories. Borrowing from the stylistic simplicity of our grandfather’s folktales and moulded in the image of rock and roll. Ronney James Dio who made a knack of telling tales through the power of heavy metal would be proud.
There is still so much that can be said about this record but we want it to speak to you the way it did to us. Take your own journey through this meshwork of fun, compelling and at times frightening ensemble of Swahili branded rock and roll.
We feel especially motivated and inspired by the drummer, I mean the energy he gives, you could see how much he enjoys drumming that bass and brass. The intensity is so overwhelming that you have to indulge and ‘let it rock’. Basically, this is a band that has got it’s chemistry together, they make you feel what you should throughout the intricate nature of their songs, if you haven’t seen them perform live, you’re most definitely losing out. We loved this album, all 19928327632 times we listened to it. We recommend that you try to catch up.