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Sydney rising stars Jinja Safari have received a lot of attention for a band yet to release their debut album. On the back of 2 EPs (2010’s Jinja Safari and 2011’s Mermaids & Other Sirens) and a killer live show, the indie quintet have thrice found themselves on the Splendour In The Grass bill, having been handpicked for the job the first time by triple j’s Unearthed in 2010. They’ve played Big Day Out, Falls and Southbound festivals and have sold out shows not only around Australia but in London and New York. They’ve hit Oz Fest in India alongside acts like Karnivool and Big Scary and landed themselves two nominations for Best Live Act at FBi’s SMAC Awards. So does their self-titled full-length debut live up to the hype? In a word – yes.
Joyous opener Apple starts the record off on the right note. It’s a 4 and a half minute extravaganza of layers upon layers of sound, dominated by some amazing Afropop drum beats. It’s followed by Relax, which maintains that same African vibe but somehow manages to turn it up another notch. Jinja Safari aren’t shy about wearing their international influences on their sleeves. Founding members Marcus Azon and Pepa Knight have spent the last 18 months travelling the globe, visiting India, Cambodia, Indonesia, the UK, the US, Germany, Canada and Uganda for inspiration and they’re not afraid to lay it down in their music. You could be forgiven for expecting an album by a bunch of white guys making what could almost be considered world music to miss the mark but the Safari thankfully manage to not only bypass the cliché but create something really unique.
Oh Benzo! is a standout track, taking the album down a softer path than its predecessors but managing to channel a ton of intensity into a slow-building anthem. Azon and his bandmates clearly have a firm grip on the big picture of their sound, while paying an incredible amount of attention to the tiniest details. They even manage to successfully utilise a touch of Auto-Tune on the track – no mean feat. Harrison busts out some tabla, sitar and harmonium arrangements for a distinctly Indian sound, while first single Plagiarist shows off the band’s high level of musicianship while simultaneously managing to make you have a bit of a boogie in your living room. Source Of The Nile samples a Himalayan percussionist playing the dholak, recorded by Knight at the foothills of the Himalayas. By the time the album closes out with the slow-burning Bay Of Fires, you feel like you’ve been on a 12-track vacation around the world – you might be a little sunburnt and jetlagged but you’ve got a smile on your face.
Jinja Safari has that same sound that found the band an audience with their first two EPs but there’s a new depth and an authenticy to this first full-length release. They’ve long been compared to acts like Sufjan Stevens and Animal Collective and while that’s an apt description, there’s a fair chunk of Vampire Weekend-esque pop sensibility in this record that can’t be ignored. It’s an album from a band that are just getting started but have firmly established themselves as an act to watch out for. Jinja Safari are busy making world music cool and they don’t care who knows it.