Ajak Kwai Let Me Grow My Wings
100 Pianos For Australia
Review by Chris Wheatley
Originating from South Sudan and now resident in Australia, this is Ajak Kwai's fifth album to date, a highly personal set of twelve songs, sung in English, Arabic and Dinka. The multi-award-winning composer Jan Skubiszewski lends his production and playing talents, as do Melbourne Ska Orchestra frontman Nicky Bomba, Simon Lewis (Amanaska, Pravana), guitarist Chris Basile and a host of other notables.
This record has been a long time in the making for Kwai, who also works as a community promoter assisting fellow migrants as well as hosting her own weekly radio show. “My experiences in Australia inform my songs and my music,” she states. “This album is a collection of those hopes and dreams for an integrated future where we are one and can share and be accepted for what my community has to offer.”
"Love Not Bitterness"
"Love Not Bitterness" sets the template from the start, laying down a vibrant, jazzy landscape with distinctively African rhythms at its core. The percussive, rolling piano will remind the listener of the wonderful work of South African musician Abdullah Ibrahim. The arrangement and production are first class, summoning an immediate 'togetherness' while also leaving plenty of space and depth. The song is infectious and joyous. Kwai's vocals are deeply affecting.
"Let Me Grow My Wings"
The title-track is a hard-hitting delight. Basile's guitar-playing is a highlight; his spare, sparse and hypnotic riffs add much. As with the record as a whole, Kwai's song-writing here is deceptively simple and irrepressibly catchy.
“Nasalleh Baletna (Let's Build Our Home)” dances with a bouncing, rolling back-beat, shuffling shakers and more of Basile's excellent work. It's the subtle flourishes and adornments which catch the ear. You'll hear echoes of desert blues, dance hall and classic African rock.
“In Our Hearts,” one of the slower cuts, set to a shifting, dubby, beat, is an emotional and musical triumph. In lesser hands, this could have come across as mawkish, but the sincerity and talent which Kwai and her assembled players bring lift things to a far higher level. Closer “Life Is A Mystery” simmers with potency. Crashing drums, spiky guitar runs and Kwai's uncompromising delivery reach deep into your soul, making Let Me Grow My Wings an album full of heart and strength.