His music has been described as poignant, churning, lilting and heartfelt. The Washington Post said, “If West African born singer/songwriter Freddy Shabaka doesn’t win listeners over with his words, the odds are good he’ll do it with his music . . . Shabaka knows how to make his point effectively on several levels as a singer, songwriter and arranger.” Shabaka was born Frederick Cole in Freetown, Sierra Leone. His music has a Reggae and African flavor that is both authentic and compelling. Shabaka’s music has political, social and Rasta anthems that figure in the mix. The songs are thoughtful and no matter how impassioned the message or how diverse the elements, the music has a sunny allure that’s hard to resist. The strength and richness of Shabaka’s vocals, the soulfulness of his voice and the power and passion in which the songs are delivered are a treat to all who listen.
Shabaka, who is from the Creole people of Sierra Leone says, “My ancestors were descendants of freed African American slaves, Maroons from Jamaica and freed Africans who were returned to Freetown when the slave trade was abolished. This African ancestral mix is reflected in the music I make.” The influences of great reggae singer/songwriters like Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, and Burning Spear are evident in Shabaka’s music, however, his style and authenticity ushers in a new chapter in the marriage of reggae music and African rhythms.
At the age of nine, Shabaka formed his first band called The Black Sparrows. He and his band mates put on shows with instruments they made from cardboard, cups, pots and pans. During his college years he was the lead singer of Fusion, a nine-piece reggae/afro-funk band that he formed with friends. They were known for their grand live performances. Shabaka’s first recording, “Free,” spawned two number one hits in Sierra Leone – “Dem Nor Wan Dance” and “Goombay Jamming.” The CMJ New Music Report described the tape as “. . . the best self produced demo tape I have received all year . . . the single, “Dem nor wan dance” deserves to be heard on dance floors, radio stations and boom boxes nationwide . . . The fact that he remains unsigned is as amazing as the churning, lilting, heartfelt music that Freddy creates on Free.” Shabaka’s last CD, “A Chapter of Roots” received a great deal of airplay on college radio stations and introduced many Reggae lovers to his music. On this CD he collaborated with a brilliant Cameroonian guitarist and producer Henry Tanash, whose guitar skillfully weaves through each song. Shabaka’s music has deep and driving bass lines, that are kept in check by the drums and an array of African percussion, topped off with sweet, simple horn and string arrangements.
Shabaka’s new CD the “Black Loyalist” was inspired by the fascinating story of Thomas Peters, a man captured in Nigeria in 1760 and brought to North Carolina as a slave. He and others secured their freedom in 1776 when they fought on the side of the British during the American revolutionary war. They were called the Black Loyalists. On January15, 1792, Peters led a contingent of 15 ships carrying 1,196 blacks to create a new settlement in West Africa. They named it Freetown, presently the capital of Sierra Leone. The story was told beautifully in a recent book called “Rough Crossings” by renowned historian Simon Schama.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. As part of the commemoration, a replica of the Amistad ship will retrace the route used by slave traders across the Atlantic Ocean. In December 2007, the Amistad will dock in Freetown, Sierra Leone and Shabaka’s “Black Loyalist” will be used as the official song to commemorate this historic event. This will mark an important moment in Shabaka’s career, as this album not only celebrates Sierra Leone’s history it speaks to its present and hopes for its future. In “See Dem a Come,” Shabaka sings of the recent civil war in Sierra Leone and the use of child soldiers; “Who is the Enemy” is a commentary on the corruption of African leaders; “African Spirit” is a song of inspiration for the children of Africa; and “Mr. Jackson” chronicles the return to the continent of an African-American from Mississippi.
“Black Loyalist” was recorded and mastered at the legendary Lion and Fox recording studios in Virginia with Jim Fox at the controls. It was produced by Shabaka and Henry Tanash. They perform with 3 new artists: the young, beautiful and talented Latin singer Nyl Medina; hip-hop sensation Joaquin; and the upcoming King of Dancehall, Sprouty. All the songs were written and arranged by Freddy Cole Shabaka.
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