Kenyan born UK transplant Vonj begins his new EP release Unity is Power with the cutting funk bite of “Skin Deep” but the musical pyrotechnics never mask the deeper message his lyrics contain. One of the abiding characteristics of Vonj’s songs on this release and earlier efforts alike is his willingness to mix in serious and personal messages with entertaining and imaginative musical structures. Often songwriters/musicians will forego one in favor of the other, usually opting to be entertainers without ever saying anything of lasting value, but Vonj blends these contrasting approaches into a satisfying musical presentation. His feel for funk music is never anything less than convincing and “Skin Deep” is, without question, the most raucous musical moment included on Unity is Power.
Vonj uses horns in an attention grabbing fashion and there isn’t a single track on Unity is Power showing off that penchant better than the title track. It jettisons the overt funk flavor of “Skin Deep” in favor of a well-rounded musical approach leaning, for the most part, on straight ahead R&B, as evidenced by the inclusion of horns. Cultural and geographical borders are no impediment for Vonj to explore these Western styles of music and, despite working out of the UK, Vonj’s take on styles like R&B and funk is American through and through. It isn’t difficult to imagine these songs playing well on American airwaves and they have tremendous potential as live numbers.
The lyrical message powering the song is important as well. Vonj never forgets he is writing for songs rather than the printed page and, as a result, there’s a lot of uniformity between the words and arrangement. “Unity is Power”, however, has a great deal of eloquence we don’t often hear in modern popular song. “Are You Ready?” shares much of the same spirit. It’s the EP’s longest track by far, but the length does nothing to dilute the impact of what Vonj seeks to convey through his songwriting. The music and vocal reflects the urgency of the song’s title without ever going overboard; many strengths define Vonj’s songwriting, but his considered and steady hand rates high among them. The musicianship fueling this track is high quality from first note to last and, despite its longer duration, Vonj and his fellow musicians never lose the listener’s attention.
The finale “Vox Populi” continues in the same R&B vein Vonj latched onto with the title track and “Are You Ready?”, but he subverts listeners’ expectations. The slow crawl characterizing much of the song’s pace is at odds with the style’s traditions, but you never get a sense Vonj is venturing far afield of the genre and running off the rails. Instead, “Vox Populi” has a sound all his own – Vonj, like any inheritor of tradition should, isn’t mimicking the past, but instead takes up the mantle of those who came before and shapes the sound and structure of R&B to serve his own ends. His efforts are successful. Unity is Power shows an artist still in development, searching, refining his skills, and exhibiting exponential growth.