Georgia Anne Muldrow - "Jina Langu Ni Afrika (My Name Is Afrika)" (Umsindo)
Georgia Anne Muldrow is a true artistic heiress to the neo-soul throne of Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. She seems like one of only a few contemporary female singers who want to keep the genre firmly placed in its left-field roots. The first explorations of neo-soul revolved around a nostalgia for classic-era soul and the idea of modernizing the music while ignoring the sheen of post-1975 mass consumption R&B. Muldrow takes each of the word “neo”’s possible definitions to heart: new, recent, revived, modified. Her music looks forward while implicitly honoring the musicians who inspired and paved a path for her. And true to her foremothers, it’s completely self-written, self-performed, self-produced and self-realized.
Umsindo (Zulu for “sound”) is Muldrow’s first full-length under her own namesake since 2006’s fiery debut on Stones Throw Records, Olesi: Fragments of Earth. (She also released Sagala under the moniker Pattie Blingh & the Akebulan 5 in 2007, not to mention countless other productions and collaborations.) From the outset of Umsindo, Muldrow continues to define her specific niche: groovy sociopolicital soul underpinned by homemade Organized Noize-like beats and interlaced with passionate multi-tracked vocals equally devoted to Badu, Sun Ra vocalist June Tyson, and, when she raps, MC Lyte.
It clocks in at over 70 minutes across 24 tracks, and can be a lot to take in one sitting. Not to say Muldrow’s productions are fatiguing, there are just a lot of wonderfully nuanced moments that can be lost when taking in the album in one large gulp. If you concentrate on her lyrical content – which stretches across an array of multifarious topics, none oversimplified – then you’ll lose intricacies of her self-harmonization. If you geek out over the beats, there are dozens of subtle and imaginative melodies that will easily slip through the cracks. Muldrow’s most distinct talent may be her ability to craft such a fragmented album that excels from the excess rather than drowning in the diversity.
Which, unfortunately, cannot be said of Georgia Anne Muldrow Presents… Ms. One. The 21-track compilation featuring Muldrow and a gaggle of her music-inclined friends (and monikers) doesn’t quite hold up to her solo outings, though it is an interesting look into the neo-soul scene developing around her. Most of the singers/rappers featured don’t differentiate themselves enough to warrant special mentions, but there are certainly a few highlights. Poet Maryetta Moore contributes two all-too-short pieces, while the ever-reliable Stacy Epps is responsible for the best track on the disc, the yearning psychedelic-soul of “Motivation.” And Muldrow herself, under the Ms. One alias, shines with “Turiya’s Smile,” a groovy jazz instrumental that hints at an Otis Jackson, Jr.-like artistic development.