I’m a sucker for a good story. Do yourself a favour and set aside 20 minutes to watch this documentary/short film which follows Burkina Faso-born artist Ismael Sankara on a trip to Gabon. Ismael travels from his Miami-base to Africa and what he finds takes him completely by surprise.
It’s a brilliant story about a chance meeting which would impact all those involved in a way none of them were expecting. The film won the Audience award winner at the 7th edition of the European Independent Film Festival and was selected for screenings at many more film festivals across the globe. Part-promotional video for Ismael Sankara the artist and part-tribute to the amazing talent we all know exists on this great continent, it is ultimately a riveting story which filled me with pride and inspiration. This is why I love African hip hop:
Can’t see the video? Watch on YouTube
Whilst the short-film is not new (it has been available to watch online for over a year), Ish has just released T.R.O.M.LIFE, a free album featuring the songs created as a result of the above journey. I couldn’t wait to download it and complete the story started by the film.
Now the name Sankara might have some of you wondering if there is any relation to the late Burkina Faso president Thomas Sankara. The suggestion might cause some to have certain pre-conceptions about him but I honestly couldn’t care either way, even if it does add a certain intrigue to the story (something Ish cleverly uses to his advantage throughout the album). My only concerned is if the music is any good. If you are that way inclined however, @mikmikko wrote an interesting piece on this last year over at AfricasaCountry.
So, onto T.R.O.M.LIFE. I wanted to hear this as much for Ismael’s intelligent rhymes as I did for the beats from Hokube and Mike Mef. Neither disappoint.
While I do have some misgivings about the mixing on the project (most of the beats sound better in the videos than they do in the final audio mixes), this is a very listenable album from start to finish. Some closed-minded individuals may initially be put-off by his American accent, and you couldn’t hold it against him if he spoke purely about an American lifestyle that he knows, but thankfully Ish finds a nice balance and manages to keep a strong connection to the motherland throughout making the content easily accessible to fans on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ismael is an accomplished wordsmith, effortlessly weaving his way in and out the varied sounds provided by The Tribe, the production team formed by Hokube and Mike Mef. In the documentary, Ismael described Hokube as ‘the African Kanye West’ and compares Mike Mef to DanjaHandz and while those may seem like lofty comparisons at first, after hearing their incredible work on this album you might find it hard to argue with. Sankara couldn’t believe his luck when he found these two in Gabon, and I can hardly believe it either. I can’t remember the last time I heard some African producers for the first time and being left this impressed.
While these aren’t even the best songs from the album in my opinion, you can get a taste of what to expect from the videos released thus far. First up is the Hokube produced Real Africans:
Can’t view this video? Watch on YouTube
And the most recent and visually impressive video Lost Tribe, the beat on this one is credited to Mike Mef:
Can’t view this video? Watch on YouTube
If you enjoyed those, rest assured the rest of the album is even better and is littered with great songs. Motherland gets it off to a strong start – a good introduction to Ismael Sankara as an artist and what you can expect from the rest of the project. The Finest is another impressive cut which rather than a straight out braggadocios affair as the title might suggest, is more of an observational view of the world around him. It also features yet another fantastic instrumental – as does the introspective Tomorrow and the insanely catchy 1000 Nights.
Some albums tend to tail off towards the end, but not T.R.O.M.LIFE – if anything it gets stronger with some of the best songs saved for the end. Now That I’m Here, Lost Tribe and of the much anticipated full version of Story Of My Life close out the album in grand style.
A gifted lyricist who has introduced me to my new favourite producers in Africa. Ismael Sankara, I am impressed. That doesn’t happen often, so hats off. A captivating story, intelligently cultivated and delivered with the highest quality.
Download T.R.O.M.LIFE here or click on the cover below.