Double Focus (Konpro, 2010)
Music and poetry fans looking for something off the beaten path should check out Double Focus by Ras Nas aka Nasibu Mwanukuzi, the Tanzanian poet and percussionist. Beginning his poetry recitation career in Dar-es-Salaam with the poetry, music and dance group Sayari, Ras Nas has moved on to recording his work and has two previous recording to his credit, Cut You Loose and Dar-Es-Salaam. A compelling hybrid of spoken poetry and music, Double Focus transforms the spoken word into atmospheric with his soulful delivery against a musical backdrop. It is as if Ras Nas has revived the idea of beat poetry and made it interesting.
Pooling a stunning collection of musicians with roots in Norway, Mali, South Africa, Bangladesh and Brazil, Double Focus exists in a kind of in between dream land where Mr. Nas’s poetry stands in the forefront and yet elegantly surrounded by sound. Writing all but one of the poems on Double Focus, Mr. Nas opens with his own “I Am Still Coming.” The play of South Africa’s Zwai Mbula on marimba, Norway’s Rolf Erik Nystrøm on saxophone and Ivory Coast’s Uriel Seri on bass drum against the Mr. Nas’s soulful delivery reels the listener in and holds him captive.
Double Focus blooms with “African Mother” with Mali’s Sidiki Camara on ngoni and vocals and additional vocals provided by Bangladesh’s Kohinoor. Slick saxophone lines revolve around Mr. Nas’s love poem “Way Over Yonder” but turn sharp and edgy against the powerful wrought”The Second Poem (War on Terror).” Mr. Camara’s velvety backing vocals and masterful ngoni playing back the deeply reverent “Mandela,” while the percussively rich instrumentals like “Sahara” and “Kilimanjaro” feature Brazil’s Eduardo Agni and the Amazon Ensemble.
Double Focus is captivating, provocative and powerful, owing as much to Mr. Nas’s striking, often wry, vocal delivery as to his poetry. Equally striking are the tight, neat musical lines threading their way through Mr. Nas’s poetry. Mr. Nas and company have made stepping into this remake of the ancient oral African tradition well worth the journey.
Double Focus” will soon be available at Amazon, CD Baby ad iTunes.