Review: Skinshape – Umoja

Before Umoja, Skinshape’s discography has rested comfortably in the underground scene, boasting consistency and originality whilst attracting well-deserved attention around the UK…

The genre of Skinshape’s music has always been difficult to definitively pin down due to his diverse influences: sitting somewhere between 70s funk, Western psychedelia and reggae. He has touched on world music in the past: 2017’s Life & Love featured elements of the Asian funk popularised by Texan band Khruangbin. With Umoja, Skinshape (William Dorey) has transformed himself from underground psych project to something else entirely.

Dorey’s music has always been set apart from its peers: by utilising sounds, genres and influence from across the globe, Skinshape offers up a unique, refreshing alternative to the ever-growing and often derivative psychedelic music scene. Now, Dorey has delved fully into his worldly inspirations, with Umoja featuring some heavy African influence, along with Spanish, Portuguese and South American styles flowing throughout. What Dorey has managed to achieve here is nothing short of impressive: maintaining his signature sound is something that he actively tries to do, yet this album, while retaining that feeling, sounds like it could have been conceived in Africa by a travelling musician with the help of an ensemble of lively acts. Originally, it was Dorey’s plan to record a great deal of the album in Africa but chose to approach the international artists more local to his home in London.

“Umoja was the most challenging album I’ve ever made”, Dorey told Platform, “it was hard to find a balance between too much traditional African style or too much Fela Kuti or too much Skinshape – it had to be right down the middle.” The album represents two very essential sides to Skinshape – his integrity to remain true to the feeling of the sound that got him recognised, and his enthusiasm to breathe in the sounds of the world and explore them via his own creation.

The new features hosted on Umoja provide the album with an authentic sense of depth and character. The album opens with Sua Alma, an immediate attention grabber that combines D’Alma’s floaty, passionate vocals with the tight grooves of Skinshape’s instrumentals. D’Alma features again on Amigos e Inimigos, a very well-received collaboration as the two artists seem to complement each other perfectly. D’Alma’s dreamy vocals unify flawlessly with the imagery that Skinshape’s music invokes.

Modou Touré and Idd Aziz also contribute their vocals on two tracks each. Kourou, with Modou Touré, is an outstanding blend of psychedelic jamming and Afro-jazz – a sequence of lively moments sewn together into a tapestry of otherworldly sound. With every guest feature singing in a foreign language, Umoja feels like an international triumph – full of celebratory collaborations, with Skinshape having the opportunity to hone in on his love for music from the continent of Africa.

Skinshape fans will notice his signature drum style throughout the album. Azon De Ma Gnin is the track most reminiscent of his earlier work, a subtly sweet slow jam that shows Dorey’s intuitive ear for chilled-out songwriting. Dorey’s love for the classic hip-hop style drum sound stems from the sample-experimentation of his early beginnings, and being able to fuse them into newly discovered styles from around the world shows the strides he has taken in his musical craftsmanship. His percussive range has evolved past this too, with tracks like Sudan and Dourlé highlighting Dorey’s ability to relish in the culture and emulate the African drum styles.

Umoja can act as a prism: shine a light on it and you’ll see the paths Skinshape has taken to reach this point, the influences that have inspired him, and the directions he can go from here. Dorey is trading his old school style for refined world music, full of life. Taking steps in a new direction – it’s exciting to watch an artist transition from an underground favourite to a dedicated, culturally appreciative musician, bursting with unique creativity.

By Dan Fauzi

Feature Image Credit: Three Pin PR

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