Review: Carolyn Malachi – Lions, Fires & Squares, at U Hall Friday

Lions, Fires & Squares album cover

If America were ever in need an Afrofuturistic Alicia Keys to take its politics and boredom on a drugged-out soul music trip, DC native Carolyn Malachi’s newest EP, Lions, Fires & Squares, is selling tickets for the ride. It’s clear that the Smart Chicks Inc. founder wants to win a Grammy. Bad. You can hear it in the raw growls before the first track drops, ripe with the conviction of a woman on a musical mission.

Song and spoken word are masterfully layered on the subtly haughty intro track “Orion,” Malachi coos “Hey, Space Cowboy,” inviting The Hunter on a voyage through the Milky Way, where the lyrical quality is reminiscent of Jamiroquai and Meshell Ndegeocello. Conversely, “Textual,” swings with a jazzy, Esthero-like groove (think “Wikked Lil’ Grrrls”) on this party track. South African hip-hop artist and activist, HHP’s (Hip-Hop Pantsula) Motswako mixture conjures up a nasal, K’Naan-esque flow on this contagiously funky, soulful joint. Drums quicken and horns amplify here to usher in a more indigenous sound for HHP’s cameo.

But, when the lone guitar strums the tune “Dumela,” you will be called back from outer space to the roots of R&B music. Inspired by the Malachi’s recent visit to South Africa (sponsored by the community artist incubator, Bloombars) “Dumela” soothes with two simple Setswana phrases that will follow you around like lyrical ghosts throughout your day–“Sao bona,” or “I See You,” and “Dumela,” meaning “Believe.” This truly should have been the anthem to the 2010 World Cup. You might even make it your wedding song. I’ve seen this song still an entire room.

The only unfortunate choice on the EP was to allow the video game bleeping, sound effects-ridden “Textual” club remix to follow abruptly after the gentle ballad, “Dumela.” But, overall the album traverses this newly carved lane of Black contemporary music gracefully, sent from the future by the likes of Erykah Badu for emerging artists like Malachi who dare to dance with the Kosmos.

Lions, Fires & Squares releases on Friday, July 30th at the U Street Music Hall, 7 p.m. World grooves by The Pinstriped Rebel. Appearances by DC’s Taratibou Youth Association and DJ Heat for $10. Tickets available at the door. *FREE* Post-Party Fete at Social on 14th & Meridian in NW Washington, DC. For details, visit