There was no album I’ve looked forward to more than Mr. Raoul K’s Still Living in Slavery; I was not disappointed. Mr. K has his eye fixed on a point so far on the horizon that some believe he’s seeing phantoms. Maybe he’s a master hypnotist because I must see them too. A more likely explanation is that he’s simply the single most interesting artist working in an Afro/Electronic field today, and Still Living in Slavery is evidence that the old magic still turns miracles.
Polyrhythms, chants, hardly audible voices and an orchestra of grotesques – this is a sound Mr. K introduced to the world on his 2011 debut album (coincidentally enough, called Introducing My World). Here he builds upon it. Comparisons to Afrobeat’s first family are rather facile, not least of all because Mr. K (as has been pointed out often enough to make it a cliché) is coming to us from a totally different experience, common in real life but decidedly uncommon in dance music. He was born in the Ivory Coast and lived in Germany since 1992. Millions of people have been uprooted from one end of the earth to the other (and millions more will join them in our lifetime as war, famine and economic refugees are joined by environmental ones). Rarely are these people heard in a voice identifiable by both their old and new communities, though. Here is one.
There’s a tension to some of the best tracks on Still Living in Slavery – most notably, the paranoid and tense “Intelligent Revolution”, a sprawling 14 minute epic with moments of delicate beauty and unnerving claustrophobia, loud and uncomfortably close. The album also features two “trilogies”: “Dounougnan Magni” and the sublime “Enchained Tribe”, which seems an allegory for nothing less than the story of mankind itself, rising out of and a pile of biological imperatives and forming something like the first poem. It’s as demanding as you want it to be.