The Wave (Elefant Traks/Inertia)
Call me old fashioned (the old is a given, the fashion questionable) but the frustration with this collection from Zindzi Okenyo is that it’s only six tracks. The Australian has plenty to say – on taking control; on being different as choice as much as circumstance; on being a woman; on not being your kind of woman - and the musical wit to say it entertainingly, and I just want more.
Still, as complaints go that’s probably one that can managed when there’s enough going on across The Wave to make it less like a speed dating introduction and more like an intensive weekend away.
Without feeling the need to wave any flag of (musical) diversity, Okenyo moves through slow groove soul, Kate Bush-influenced R&B and bare bones hip hop. She sings and raps, talks politics and relationships, makes connections with the likes of Jill Scott and Neneh Cherry without ever sounding other than right now, and crosses paths with the likes of Sampa The Great and Crooked White, without ever feeling anything other than herself.
And that self is strong. As the sampled stern matriarchal voice at the beginning of Woman’s World (one of several songs here already released as singles, and one of the best songs of 2017) says, “don’t look down on me”, and Okenyo isn’t here for the condescending.
So even as the EP begins and ends with the trappings of tenderness - in Demons, where she raises the value of tears as something that gives away your power, before deciding that owning the message to yourself in those tears; and at the other end of the set, in Utopia, where desire and closeness is elevated to something higher than bliss – the message remains one of finding strength.
Okenyo makes and remakes the point that empowerment is the basis of security at home and work - or for that matter in boardroom/parliamentary floor. Yes even, as she describes in 20/20, the panic attacks arise at the thought of vulnerability, as vulnerability is not what should be feared.
“I want to love you, but I want to love me too,” she says in Come Through, where a limber bassline cuts into House keyboards; “On time, my own power,” she declares in Woman’s World, where sprinkled percussion makes tricky underpinnings for almost camp ‘80s synths with some pure ‘80s Queens delivery.
And when you’ve got the message you might also slip on 20/20 and let your limbs hang as loose as the shaker rhythm and just dance the point home. “I’d do it all again, with 20/20 vision.”