A 1-listen Review of Scorpion Kings & Tresor’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’
A laudable attempt at making Amapiano even more pan-African
A laudable attempt at making Amapiano even more pan-African
In October 1974, American boxers, George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, stepped into a ring in Kinshasa, Zaire, now Congo, for a fight that was billed “The Rumble In The Jungle”. Both pugilists came into the fight with different circumstances and narratives swirling around them, but what was a foregone certainty, was that their match-up was going to be one of the finest sporting displays of the year and indeed, even the decade. More than matching expectations, The Rumble In The Jungle was a boxing masterclass, pitting Foreman’s exceptional power against Ali’s flamboyance and technical capability for a match that’s widely regarded as one of the finest sporting displays of the 20th century.
By fate or happenstance, 47 years after the original Rumble In The Jungle, two heavyweights have now come together for another Rumble In The Jungle birthed on the African continent, and has all the making of a true star turn and the potentiality for an era-defining showcase. Only this time, they are not boxing, Kabza Da Small and DJ Maphorisa are re-uniting one of Africa’s most prolific music duo for another run in the sun, ably accompanied by vocalist, Tresor.
As Amapiano took the continent by storm in 2020, the innovators have kept pace with the genre. Kabza’s 2020 sonic tour de force, the sweltering ‘I Am The King of Amapiano: Sweet and Dust’, established him as one of the sound’s biggest purveyors, and just six months prior, Kabza and DJ Maphorisa, collectively known as The Scorpion Kings, had dropped their fifth project, ‘Once Upon a Time In Lockdown’, tweaking the percussion and groove of the project to match the ambiance of lockdown.
One year later, they’ve returned with another project, ‘Rumble In The Jungle’, setting their focus on advancing the template they started building on two summers ago with the eponymous mainstream breakout project, ‘Scorpion Kings’. Two songs had previously dropped on ‘Rumble In The Jungle’ with Trssor’s vocals thrillingly seeking a chance to make a love-gone-wrong right on “Funu”, while the percussion-heavy “Folasade” sees Amapiano morph into a silky dance number. Now that the album has arrived in full, we’re digging into it to give it the one-listen review treatment.
In usual 1-listen review fashion, all reactions are in real time while the music plays. No pauses, rewinds, fast-forwards or skips.
There is no better way, for me, to open an album of significance than with whispered echoes. The way the song opens to Tresor’s voice after the brief percussive interlude speaks of the intention behind this album; and the tempo keeps rising. With many of the Nigerian offshoots of Amapiano music, there are wild beat flips and less emphasis on the piano chords that truly make the genre special but it’s delighting to see the beat for “Stimela” keep it simple and original and Tresor’s voice just has just the requisite amount of earthiness to make this a delightful opener.
Something about pre-released songs often makes them sound better on the album, maybe it’s the familiarity. But “Funu” sounds loads better, Tresor’s croons are giving me life, there’s something about how he lets his voice become an extra instrument when he breaks into those tiny sing-alongs within the song. The drums are more prominent here and we might be looking at a natural evolution of the Scorpion King’s technique. ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ was billed as a pan-African effort and it’s so easy to see they drew influence from the folk music tradition of francophone west Africa, props to the team for making this work. This is nostalgia speaking, but this one is an instant standout.
“La Vie Est Belle”
The muted drumming that opens this just sends chills down my spine, there is a language barrier but you can feel the weight of emotions in Tresor’s voice, there’s so much soul on this record. The drumming is barely ascending or increasing in pace, but the track’s acuity is pointedly visible. This is definitely an elegy of some sort. One thing I love about the Scorpion King’s unconventional approach to music is how they allow the music to build, it rises and wells up, and you are in touch with every aspect of what is being done, that’s what “La Vie Est Belle” gives me. Will revisit.
Let there be no cap, this is a jam and a half. Everything just works here, the ponderous feel of the percussion, how it’s coated with glossy piano chords and the way Tresor’s accent makes his pronunciation of “Folasade” so prosaic. This is not so much a rumble in the jungle as it is a declaration of love in all its manifestation – life, loss, death, and grief – so far, but maybe that’s the point. The shakers make a cameo near the ending and that’s the perfect way to end a song that feels so ethereal.
Once I heard those Bacardi grooves that opened this one, I knew it was deep house. Then there are the glittering pianos. It’s about to be a lituation. Oh man, Tresor is going elegiac again, it’s that damn choral voice again, he’s slowed down the pace and flipped the song on its head.
WE ARE BACK UP. The beat switched again and we’re on the dancefloor. Amapiano is so limitless, the range is undefeated, but something about how Tresor keeps slipping between soundscapes feels like he’s one of only a few people in the universe who can go from a whispering room to being a bacchanal charmer. I’m still conflicted about this one.
“Dust In The Wind” (feat. Boatenberg)
Another house number. I can hear the four on the floor pattern which is amazing considering this is a love song. There’s just a tingling feeling that this one gives even when the dance feels becomes more pronounced. The way the beat switches up towards the end just confirms that this is the most experimental Scorpion Kings album yet. I’m not totally sold on it but I get the impulse to try and break new ground.
Now, they’re just showing off with the instrumentation that opens this track, it pulls you into different directions. There’s a bit of salsa here and some refined island melodies. There’s a slight pedantic ring that’s elevating “Angelina” as Tresor purrs his lyrics. No doubting this, a standout!
“Cherie” (feat. Tyler ICU)
One of the most noticeable things about this album is how delicately it mixes Amapiano’s carefreeness and the emotional weight of each song’s subject matter. “Cherie” is one of those moments when the balance feels tenuous in certain instances. Tresor’s clarity, however, grounds the track in the moment, and his work just deserves all the acclaim going to come to it off this album.
“Mali Mali” (feat. Mas Musiq)
While the opening is a beat dragged, it gets better. There is a grand drumming section that just translates me to secondary school and the show-offy drumming by a couple of kids. This one is a tribute to beauty and the way the beat is clouded and billowy is so gorgeous. A deep album cut, but one that I’d be sure to revisit in my spare time.
What are those bounces? That’s a defiant way to open a song nine tracks into an album, so much confidence, so much élan. The kick is staying so it’s definitely a feel-good one, there’s so much flux on this album but the vocals are always a compass if you don’t get seduced by the beats. There’s a stretch within the song where there’s no singing and the Scorpion Kings are just flexing. What an interlude man. I respect this. Then there’s some techno just to top things off; yeah, I’m singing. Definitely revisiting.
This is one of the shortest songs on the album and I just want it to last longer. I connect with this because there’s something resembling acceptance in the air. It’s deep without being overbearing and that’s just such a great thing.
Afrobeats influence here. I can hear some of those loops that instantly take me to Nigeria – in fact, there’s almost a parallel to how this beat and the one of “Sponono” sputter out. Tresor is mellow though and the drums are built around his singing. I like how this sounds so familiar and new all at the same time. Great track!
Some disco here and the lyrics are just irreverent. After all the emotional tour of the preceding tracks, this is a light-hearted penultimate track that seems like it’s teeming with electricity. The beat reflects that energy, it’s jaunty and carefree in a good way. I, too, want to play under a starry night.
“Love Like A Weapon”
I like the title of this song but am definitely not a fan of what it proposes: toxicity. The music is great though, the lyrics are sharp and well-constructed. This feels like an experiment too because the drums just dominate what is happening on this song. I like how Tresor makes it seem like an evolutionary undoing, very thematic. That said, toxic love is still a big no, y’all enjoy though.
I really wished there were more people brought along for the ride. For what was supposed to be a pan-African effort, there’s just a little originality and lived experiences from those regions on this project even if their influences reverb through the songs. What ‘Rumble In The Jungle’ did get right is the juxtaposition of the emotional with the carefree. There are stints within songs where Tresor is going on about life’s uncertainties and the beat literally guides him back to some fun. The production is watertight and represents another feather in the cap for the Scorpion Kings.
Listen to ‘Rumble In The Jungle’ here.
@walenchi Is A Lagos-Based Writer Interested In The Intersection Of Popular Culture, Music, And Youth Lifestyle.