'School of Life' is a meticulously crafted, virtuoso performance from Daara J Family. (Pronounced "Daara Jee" the J is like the 'g' in mirage.) Daara J Family was formed by two members of Daara J, one of Senegal's pioneering hip-hop groups from the 1990s. The two members are Faada Freddy (vocals) and N'Dongo D (raps).
School of Life showcases incredible variety: the album incorporates beats and genres from across the continent (Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, South Africa, Brooklyn). The lyrics are sung in 5-6 languages and deal with a variety of African social issues. Both members put on virtuoso performances: Faada Freddy's voice soars through the choruses with reggae-style power and sweetness (à la Lucky Dube). N'Dongo throws down fast and really, really smart rhymes. (If you haven't figured it out, Wolof is a language superbly suited for hip-hop.) The arrangements are rich and multi-textured, incorporating sampling, beats, and West African instruments (xalem, tama, sabar).
The tracks are memorable from the word go. The opening track is the up-beat "Bayi Yoon," which reminds us of Africa's great civilization. "Tomorrow" incorporates complex finger-picked guitar lines beneath R&B vocals. "Unité 75" is a great rap track, told from the perspective of an immigrant who leaves West Africa to look for work. "Sabadola" incorporates southern African beats and vocals. "Celebrate" has a ska feel. "Pottu nda" is an intense, funk, Jackson-esque rush. There are so many great moments, and such variety within and between tracks - the things that make this album great cannot be captured in a few lines.
Unfortunately, as of writing, it's difficult to get this album in the U.S. Hopefully Daara J Family will find a way to market the mp3's through their website. Check it out to see if it's available. Use amazon as a backup. This album is worth buying - and these guys deserve your dollar.
To sum it up: people will be talking about 'School of Life' for years to come. Daara J Family have broken new ground in composition, diversity, and coherence in African hip-hop. Look for more good things to come. And one more thing: They are even better live.