Sometimes this world seems like an ugly, tacky place in which qualities like beauty and subtilty are easily cast aside in favor of noise and bombast. The members of Seba Kaapstad, a multinational band with roots in South Africa, Swaziland, and Germany offer an alternative on their luminous second album, Thina. Band members Ndumiso Manana, Zoe Modiga, Sebastian Schuster, and Philip Scheibel originally met in South Africa and released their debut album, Tagore’s in 2016. The spiritually uplifting Thina finds the band moving forward with a seamless fusion of jazz, soul, and electronic music.
Some of the tracks, such as “Billionaire” and “Heckman” serve as brief, abstract pieces transitioning from one proper song to another. But all tracks on Thina, long or short, serve the same purpose: creating and sustaining a musical mood that is serene and reflective, while still being adventurous enough to allow for flights of both instrumental and vocal fancy.
The album-opening title track establishes this mood. Initially wordless vocals and gentle electronic percussion greet the listener, immediately calling to mind a quiet interlude on any one of Stevie Wonder’s classic 1970’s albums. Piano, percussion, and various electronics swirl through the mix as Zoe Modiga begins singing multilingual lyrics noting that she is “aware of the perils that will surely come” but finds strength in the knowledge that “there’s more guidance in the quiet places and the friendly faces”.
The sound and feel of “Thina” are echoed in the next track, “Africa”, though this song adds a few rapped verses and an empowering set of lyrics directed at African citizens into the mix. The words touch obliquely on politics but mostly try to impart a sense of empathy and optimism for the continent and its people.
The aspirational themes of Thina continue in the quietly anthemic “Don’t”, which is perhaps the most beautiful track on the album. “The world is such a game we play these days / Looking at it all I’m so amazed / Caught up in the fog; it’s such a haze / Want to keep the fire in me ablaze.” The questioning lyrics gradually lead to a sublime, mostly instrumental coda featuring the interplay of piano and violins.
While optimism is the prevailing mood of Thina, the members of Seba Kaapstad understand how hard-won happiness can be. In “Dezaster”, vocalists Manana and Modiga contemplate the end of a relationship, or perhaps even the death of a loved one, noting “It’s a disaster / But my heart will heal.” As if to underscore that healing, “Dezaster” leads directly into “Playground”, the most buoyant track on Thina.
“Playground” is, in turn, followed by “Welcome”, a message of advice and instruction for newborns, or for anybody who might be metaphorically returning to life after enduring a crisis. The album eventually closes, like a gently receding wave, with the appropriately titled “Bye”, in which the vocalists contemplate the possibilities of pursuing a friendship that could have romantic implications.
Thina sounds wonderful simply as background music, but there is more happening than just that. Seba Kaapstad have created a deep musical statement in Thina, in which music, lyrics, and performance interact in a way that will wash over you and leave you feeling musically and emotionally refreshed if you let it.