Shafiq Husayn Shafiq En’a Freeka Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

One-third of futurist hip hop cartel Sa-Ra Creative Partners goes solo, brilliantly.

Stevie Chick 2009

Hotly-tipped trio Sa-Ra Creative Partners possess a name well-suited to their amorphous, ambitious approach to music, having won acclaim for collaborations with the likes of Erykah Badu, Jay-Z and The Neptunes, while releasing several impressive albums of their own (most notably this year’s mind-scrambling Nuclear Evolution: The Age Of Love) exploring a sound that’s sprawling, unique, and instantly recognisable.

Founder member Shafiq Husayn’s first solo full-length builds upon the polymorphous charms of his day-job, a giddily imaginative hour of space-funk and cyber-soul that pays precious little heed to genre boundaries, fusing futurist technology with the kind of boldly idiosyncratic approach previously displayed by such 70s soul’n’funk auteurs as Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield.

Shafiq En’a Freeka takes the motherland as its inspiration and theme, drawing influence from both African musicians and the music of the African-American diaspora, distilling something new from the creative conversation between them. It opens with a brace of restlessly funky tracks echoing J Dilla’s work on Common’s 2000 album Like Water for Chocolate, U.N. Plan pulsing with polyrhythmic snares and sampled James Brown grunts, Nirvana bristling with insurgent horns and a slow-burning Kuti-esque funk. These tracks re-imagine hip hop, if it had built itself from Kuti’s afrobeat, rather than James Brown breaks.

While this edgy rhythmic itch continues throughout, this is an album that never sits still, and soon Husayn is spinning off in myriad new directions: enlisting the aid of neo-soul’s sweetest crooner, Bilal, for Cheeba’s percolating and hypnotic ode to ‘erb; scoring synth-strings for the exotica of Dust and Kisses; and rewriting jazz standard Jeepers Creepers as a dreamily erotic funk on Le’Star. No Moor, meanwhile, retraces the bloody history of slavery, sound-tracked by a 21st century Duke Ellington jazz, Husayn’s backing singers referencing “40 acres and a mule” and 1492 with an acid bite behind their sweet Pointer Sisters-esque harmonies; its coda, All Dead, concludes that story on a powerfully bleak note.

It’s of vast credit to Husayn, ultimately, that this ambitious, sprawling album isn’t the jumbled mess it could easily have become. Risking a pretentious folly, he instead delivers a potent, adventurous set that – like kindred spirit Erykah Badu’s sublime 2008 album New Amerykah Part One – proves that drawing upon funk’n’soul’n’jazz’s rich history can inspire some of the wildest and most wonderful future-music.

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