Quick - name a singer from Burundi.
To be fair, last week I couldn't name one either. This week,
I'm listening to Khadja Nin's fourth album Ya. While she credits
Miriam Makeba as her mentor, it's perhaps more telling that Nin,
from a tiny country squished between Tanzania and Zaire, collaborates
with Howard Jones and Sting's guitarist Dominic Miller.
The resulting arrangements are smooth and atmospheric╬not unlike
Sade, but not really like her either. The blend of instruments
and styles keeps the songs fresh, from the slow groove of the
first track, "Mama," to "Damu Ya Salaam" (a
cover of Sting's "The Russians" rewritten to capture
the tension of the Gulf War), to the growly guitar rock of the
final cut Shadow Man.
Like many African artists, her songs tend towards social and
political issues, but with a melodic sweetness that keeps them
from sounding like diatribes. Other songs are about the loss of
her sister and her husband, the equality of all people, and African
unity. And "Mzee Mandel"a is a touching tribute to the
South African leader: "Our father Nelson Mandela/Old Madiba/üEven
if your memories/Are colored with sadness/Gradually your people/Are
learning to live together."
If you like Sting, Angelique Kidjo, and maybe Sade╬or if you
just want to find out more about the state of Burundi's music╬check
this one out.