Kae Sun – Whoever Comes Knocking (Moonshine)
Kae Sun does not merely have an incredible voice, one that helped his 2013 song “The Ship and the Globe” rack up more than four million views on YouTube. He has a unique voice: one with a timbre and accent that sets him apart from everyone else in the pop sphere. It helps that his music also exists outside of genre: like the best pop music, it borrows freely from classic balladry, electronic music, reggae—all of which is almost secondary underneath the melodies he decorates with his vocal skills.
Kae Sun is the stage name for Kwaku Darko-Mensah Jr., who was born in Ghana and moved to Hamilton as a teenager. He now lives in Montreal, where the pan-African enthusiasts of the Moonshine monthly DJ night have rallied to release his long-awaited, third full-length album. Because of his ethnicity, Kae Sun often gets pigeonholed as “world music,” which makes about as much sense as Ruth B (“Peter Pan”) or the Weeknd getting the same designation because they’re Ethiopian-Canadian. Kae Sun makes pop music, pure and simple: readymade for radio and better than most things on Top 40 today. The presence of multiplatinum Quebec star Ariane Moffatt might help him break down some doors in that province; the rest of Canada will have to take him on his own terms. Which shouldn’t be a problem with singles like “Treehouse” or “Stalk.”
“This house wasn’t built on rock’n’roll,” he sings in the opening line of the record, his voice running through a Leslie speaker to sound otherworldly. No, Kae Sun’s foundation is much sturdier than that. Though he started out as an acoustic guitarist, you’d be hard pressed to hear anything but electronic textures on Whoever Come Knocking—a synthetic makeover that doesn’t sacrifice his soul. The arrangements and grooves are solid, and with that voice front and centre, Kae Sun crosses all borders with ease. (March 2)
Stream: “Treehouse,” “Stalk,” “Breaking”
I wrote about Kae Sun, Pierre Kwenders, Zaki Ibrahim and Afrotronix for the Globe and Mail here.