Gordon Koang - Unity Music Album Reviews

The South Sudanese star reflects and celebrates the liminal life of a refugee on his first album recorded in Australia, where he's lived in asylum from his home country's civil war since 2014. 

The king of South Sudanese music has been living in a suburb of Melbourne since 2014, a refugee of his home country’s civil war. Blind since birth, Gordon Koang was a prolific writer and star in South Sudan, with ten LPs to his name. He was in the middle of an international tour when he decided not to return to home, fearing for his safety as members of his ethnic group, the Nuer tribe, were being killed in pogroms. Koang did not release music for a half-decade in Australia, until connecting with Music in Exile, a nonprofit that links refugee musicians with the country’s network of indie venues and infrastructure.
Unity is his first new album since leaving South Sudan, and his first attempt to articulate what it means to be an artist who exists between states. For Koang, this isn’t just a geographical issue. Across Unity’s eight songs, he calls on his home country’s many ethnic groups to find common ground, celebrates the bond between audience and musician, and longs for an eventual reunion with his wife and children, who he hasn’t seen since arriving in Australia. The combination of Koang’s South Sudanese thom and the group of local indie rockers who make up his band produces an energy to match the music he made back home—a pleasant surprise, even if they sometimes struggle to figure out how to use it. (South Sudanese percussionist Paul Biel, Koang's cousin and fellow refugee, also contributes.)

The thom is a harp-like instrument similar in sound and appearance to the East African krar. Koang plays it as both a rhythmic and melodic instrument, making it sound something like a Delta blues guitar or a detuned kora. His melodies unfurl in long, legible lines that he doubles with his vocals. Though his earlier music was largely backed by drum machines and synthesizers, he knows how to command a live ensemble, egging them along with his instrument and daring them to keep up. His bandmates step cleanly into the tight pockets he creates, and they move along at a parade-march pace.

While Koang is capable of leading the band wherever he wants to go, at times it’s not clear where they’re headed. With the thom setting the pace, the songs skip and skitter with frantic, locomotive energy. When properly harnessed, as in the pulsing “Stand Up (Clap Your Hands),” that energy nearly matches the incredible highs of his concerts. But the longer cuts here don’t progress so much as they dilate, stretching beyond what feels like their natural run times without pursuing any kind of melodic or rhythmic development. “Mal Mi Goa” opens with a synth that shimmers like a gold curtain, but the instrument dutifully settles into a simple rhythm pattern for the rest of the song’s eight minutes. Absent any real soloing or groove-digging, the lack of movement can be stultifying.

But Koang’s charisma is strong enough to pull the listener through when the album starts to stall. Whether he’s singing in English, Arabic, or Nuer, he emotes like someone who’s used to making himself heard over raucous crowds, and he knows precisely where to push into a higher register. On the intricately melodic “Stand Up,” Koang prods his listeners to join him and the band on stage, rounding out the chorus by declaring “we love you, audience.” He reels notes out of his thom, nearly cackling with delight as he sings along. His palpable sense of purpose keeps the mood bright, even when the subject matter turns dark. He counsels his fellow exiles in “Asylum Seeker,” advising patience and good cheer as they wait for new visas. On closer “Te Ke Mi Thile Ji Kuoth Nhial,” he sings across the ocean, sending comfort to his family as the band splashes blue chords behind him.

Shortly after Koang finished work on the album, the government granted him his permanent protection visa, making it possible for his family to finally join him in Australia. “There’s a lot of change here” Koang told The Guardian of his new country, “[but] now it’s home.” Unity is a reflection of his in-between existence. It’s indelibly shaped by his Australian bandmates, and it’s of a piece with his South Sudanese roots; happiness and grief wind their way through nearly all of these songs side by side. There’s joy in these liminal spaces, Koang makes clear, setting up shop inside and inviting the audience to join him for a dance.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Gordon Koang - Unity Music Album Reviews Gordon Koang - Unity Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, August 21, 2020 Rating: 5

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