Go to any part of City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto and you may mistake this as something by Jazzanova or Mondo Grosso/Shinichi Osawa. The reason for that is because of the musicianship, the arrangements, and complexities but with any musician, it’s all in the composition and presentation that may make it seem complex and it may very well be as easy as a coloring book. For Matthijs Rook, it may very well be effortless but the easy in how he does it is because it’s true to him, his creations and playing come from the heart. As Nicolay, he continues on his worldly travels, in a real sense or metaphorical/musical. In the words of Elvis Costello, “if you’re out of luck or out of work, we can send you to Johannesburg.” For Nicolay, the inspiration is to take himself to Johannesburg and find an essence to some of his creations.
City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto is a nice blend of vocalized song and powerful instrumentals, with easy song being a diary of sorts on the journey of his existence and experiences. As the voice says in “Sun Rings/Uprising”, direct language is all about being literal, to be honest in front of you without fear, of what you see and hear. You can then say that Nicolay’s music on this album is very much performed without fear and doesn’t hide anything, for what he feels is what you hear and thus visualize upon listening. You may bring to mind your own tales or for the songs with lyrics, escape into their worlds for a few minutes. What you’re hearing is the sensibilities of multiple heart beats and despite each one being individualistic, they are somehow connected, his musical painting of what he felt over the years while visiting Soweto. One may hear the name of the city and think of the Malcolm McLaren song of the same name but Nicolay creates a much stronger picture, vivid and utterly passionate in its execution.
Vocalists Carmen Rodgers and Tamisha Waden make their presence known but for me, I don’t mind saying that when it comes to Nicolay, I want to know what Phonte Coleman is doing and where he plays on taking me with his performances. The duality of the Foreign Exchange union continues to thrive and while both of them are more than capable of carrying something unique on their own terms, there is a sense of magic that may be unknown but it is felt. It’s something to listen to, sit back and just say “this is what it’s all about.”
As with much of Nicolay’s work over the years, as the album goes on, there’s a sense that the travels will go further for many ears to come. As with any true musician and composer, he plays with a sense in making his music open-ended in a Duke Ellington manner, as if to say “to be continued”. You hear a song like “There Is A Place For Us” and know he’s about to pull you towards the finish line. However, you know the end as nothing more than the beginning of another path towards a new race to take yourself to, another challenge forthcoming. It may not be an actual battle against anyone but ones self, but it can be all about the survival of the fittest. When you are balanced with ones sense of self, it becomes automatic. Effortless. Easy. Another page in Nicolay’s diary has been turned. To be continued…