KIRIBATI: Zero - Elijah L
Traditional tropical rhythms are brought into the 21st century with a deft touch and some global music flavours
As Kiribati is the only country in the world to straddle all four hemispheres, one might not be so surprised to hear that when listening to their biggest musical export, Elijah L, he has made a truly global sounding album. His third album, Zero, is almost always fun but more so than that picks up on various influences from all over the globe. Even in geographical terms, Kiribati is like the bridge between Micronesia and Polynesia, and as such the album does not just sound like a homage to one region. That said, it is clear that Elijah L takes pride in his homeland. The album cover features an image of the I-Kiribati flag patriotically stamped onto it, songs like Iaan Te Karau (Katukam) have a strong island feel to them and the popstar regularly sings in Gilbertese.
“Hearing him sing in his mother tongue has certainly made me more curious to find out more about it and that is so often the power of music.”
The conscious decision to often sing in Gilbertese is one that I really appreciate. There are songs that have a strong melody such as Ia Kataua, which I absolutely love the drop of, that would be far less interesting to me were he just to sing in English. I must be honest and say when I listen to charts music in a nightclub, I am very rarely paying close attention to the meaning of the lyrics, but hear I found myself far more drawn to the timbre of his voice and what is realistically one of my first times that I have been exposed to the language. Gilbertese, rather curiously, sounds a lot like a Scandinavian language to me. Hearing him sing in his mother tongue has certainly made me more curious to find out more about it, and that is so often the power of music.
There are some other great club tracks on here Bua Tangirem is a genuinely memorable track, while Get Wild really makes me want to get to the dancefloor to be silly with my friends until the early hours of the morning. However, as stated before there are also other influences further afield than mainstream American music. The title-track and opener, Zero, sees Elijah L make a pit stop in Africa with its overtly afrobeats vibe to it, before heading across to the Caribbean with what was initially my favourite song Ko Tamoroa, a soft dancehall number, alongside the reggae-pop song Imarenara. The track that surprised my most, however, was Set Fire To My Soul. The song almost reminded me of Algerian raï music which I just love.
With all that said, I cannot pretend I loved the album in its entirety. There are some quite cheesy songs such as Morning Light which are not really to my taste. The most detestable was Troubles which features a plethora of artists and starts with a bit of chanting which sets it up nicely. However, it soon turns into an average EDM-pop song that I wouldn’t be surprised if The Chainsmokers released. I suppose after a few drinks I might not hate it so much, but the song sounds like it would be best placed playing over the credits of an I-Kiribati teen flick. That said, I am not going to throw too much shade in the direction of Elijah L for this. After all, pop music is meant to reach a mass audience and if I don’t love every song, that is not the end of the world. Whilst it is feared that the sinking island nation may not survive much longer due to the global climate crisis, one thing remains for certain – Elijah L will be in the history books for making the party go on in the world’s largest atoll.