The body of the life the force is currently encapsulated by 17 songs of nebulas space funk compiled by the unique mind and voice of Shafiq Husayn. As a third of the Sa-Ra Creative Partners, Shafiq has contributed his musical stylings to a very impressive catalogue of work. A resume that includes numerous twelve inches, remixes of artist as diverse as Roots Manuva, Steve Spacek, and Medeski Martin & Wood, and handling a strong bulk of the production on two of the more adventurous and powerful “R&B” albums of the decade: Bilal’s shelved, but leaked Love 4 Sale and Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah. Yet, on his debut solo album Shafiq En A Free Ka, Shafiq takes us to a whole new chamber of his musical vision and language.
The SRCP banner is one that can be described as a contemporary assemblage of Parliament meets Prince meets Dilla sonics, but those influences are toned down for more obscured sounds and characters. En A Free Ka sounds like the modern offspring of Horace Tapscott ruminating on Flying Lotus and Exile’s instrumental projects. Full of tropes, abstractions and aboriginal rhythms alive within the LA metropolis, Shafiq En A Free Ka clangs, murmurs, bangs, echoes and glides into an organic mass of globalized booty shakin’ Pan Africanism.
The album’s opening track “Nirvana” vacillates between afro-beat and ’70s funk, strutting with its sea of sounds: joyous horns, a smoked out trumpet section, sluggish drums, a swaggerin’ bass line and collection of Shafiq’s favorite up and coming songstresses harmonizing the words “Deep, Soooo Deep” to almost erotic effect. Out of this, the upbeat “The U.N. Plan” arises and sets the tone for the magic of this album. “Cheeba”, a clever ode to smoking weed, sounds exactly like its inspiration. Featuring Bilal in one of his more restrained performances, the song fluctuates with layers of sound that seem to be orbiting each other, rather than conjoined, and allows Bilal’s voice to breathe and hypnotize souls without him ever really SANGin with the ability he is known to have. The lead single “Lil Girl” follows, and along with “Lost and Found” and “Dust & Kisses” becomes a triptych of electro funk&B, full of cosmopolitan atmospheres and sultry vocal performaces. The mid point of the album is marked by the care free jam band sound of “No Moor”, a reflective piece that sounds like a spiritual upliftment, but addresses the history of colonialism people of African decent have had to endure.
After “No Moor” the album becomes more challenging for listeners. The tone is more stark and subdued, while engaging ideas around death, greed, corruption, and perseverance. “Major Heavy” has a bit of cheesiness factor to it, “Evil Men” can be a difficult experience with its bleeping rumbling collage of noises, and “Changes” just drifts along for over four minutes without ever really capturing one’s attention. Yet, out of these songs emerges Shafiq’s lover’s side. “Love Still Hurts” and “Le’Star” are both Afro-romantic compositions that would fit right in place as sounds to scenes in movies like Amelie or Punch Drunk Love. Shafiq also lets his inner freak out one more time as his musical odyssey nears its end on “Odd Is C”: an interplanetary romp full of synth sound and ambient percussions that would make Sun Ra and his many archestras smile.
By the time this piece of musical art comes to its end you feel you have been challenged and transformed. Transformed in a way that not only convinces there are still musical territories to be explored, but that “Black Music” in itself is complex and diverse beyond the static representations of popular sounds and entertainers. Shafiq En A Free Ka is a miasma of secular blues, jazz, R&B, funk, rock, hip hop and electronica on that other space ship meditating on the motherland. Its intent is to make you feel positive and free through sound irregardless of your race, sex and nationality. I am inspired that musical genius such as Shafiq and this album are alive and breathing today.