History is not something that we’ve done a good job of preserving as Malawians, the current generation is suffering from a lack of cultural heritage and identity because of our lack knowledge about who we are as a people. The path of pursuing cultural identity and unearthing our history is not an easy one, how much more when you have to do it over Hip Hop Beats. This is exactly what Christian rapper TNO’s album Umunthu is all about.
The album dropped on 24 November 2017, and I was given an early listen by his management team Legendary, but because of many unforeseen circumstances, the review is only coming now.
Back to the album now, I think the idea itself is brilliant and relevant, in the past few years of African-ness trending, a lot of us young Malawians have been left wondering who we are. According to TNO the goal of this album is “tackle life issues as faced by a Malawian and trace the roots of our current status and challenges as an African Nation in the hope of pointing people to the greatest need”.
One aspect I appreciate of this album is the amount of time and research that TNO put in, it comes across in how he presents the facts and presents them. This comes across in songs like Tribal Race and Mizu where he pretty much narrates the entire history of Malawi, which is pretty impressive.
The second thing I really liked about this album is the fusion of African sounds, the album has a very tribal feel. This can be seen even in the artwork itself, it is very cultural and tribal communicating very well the feel of this album. The afro sound comes across very well in songs such as Pamodzi where he promotes the idea of coming together as Malawians and collaborating and supporting each other.
Matthew the poet opens up the album with a spoken word poem about Malawi, this was a good touch to the album. It added a different flair to it and explained the concept being deeper than just the problems that we see, but our bigger problem being sin.
Udani is an outstanding track in the album because of the content and production quality. I think it captures the essence of the album and concept very well, this is particularly important because most of TNO’s fans are not familiar with this new sound. Hopefully, when they released it as one of the lead singles it gave his fans a clear vision of where his brand is going forward.
I would have loved to see TNO’s rebrand as an artist happen and be communicated gradually. I’m not sure how his fan base has responded to the switch in his sound, especially given the fact that his previous sound was more Pop meets Rap which worked great then. It is great to see him mature as an artist, my one concern is that he might be losing his people while doing it due to lack of proper communication.
As I’ve sat with this album, I can’t help but think how much of great album this would have been. With such an amazing concept in his hands, and so many dynamics to unpack (such as the history of Christianity in Malawi and western influence on this), it had all the potential to be an amazing conceptual album but in the end, it was underwhelming. The album was also very short, with 9 original tracks, I excepted more, I think he could have done more, perhaps an EP would have been a better idea.
A couple of things that in my opinion would have taken this album from good to great; production, collaboration and time. Most of the songs on the album were produced by TNO himself, where he did a good job but more versatile producers and those that are familiar with this sound would have made this such a great album production wise. In the same vein, I think collaborating with different artists and creatives to make the big vision he had for the album come to life. Lastly, I think the album needed more time to be worked on and improved on, in a lot of ways it feels like it was rushed and premature for him as an artist and even his new team.
With all his being said, I think this is a good album worth your money and listen, it will make you think, you will get educated about our history and who we are. I can’t wait to see how this story progresses and which avenues TNO takes his new sound and content. I think if there is ever a people who need to be dedicated to the art of preserving history it’s Christians because we ought to be lovers of truth. Which is why this project really excites me, and I can’t wait for what is in store for him on this journey.
You can follow TNO on Social Media @tnospitter and @Legendarymw is his team. Umunthu is available on all digital stores, and Physical copies can be ordered through TNO.
Have you heard the album? What are your thoughts on it?