Review: Eli Earl Voodoo Raps

In a time where society has moved away from the tradition of storytelling around campfires and passing down of knowledge from elder to descendant through teachings of ancient mythology and taboos, from peer-to-peer through games and songs loaded with steps to conquer everyday struggles, and from descendants to elders through the practice of doing right by those who aided you (montsamaisa bosigo o lebogwa bo sele), Eli Earl reminds us that all is not lost.

For listeners that kept in touch with grandparents through childhood or were educated through Botswana’s public school system, Voodoo raps can be used as a recollection exercise that forces you to hearken back to simpler times when legends of Kgogomodumo, Dimo and matholwane sent shivers down your spine.

Iconic markers such as the 80s South African series Lesilo about a man, Raitlhwane, and a zombie he summons to do his bidding, are one of the props Eli Earl explores. This time though, on Tsogo ya Motswako he flips Raitlhwane’s zombie call for the chorus calling for a revival of Motswako. In the same vein as Common’s iconic I Use To Love HER, Eli humanizes Motswako and presents his case as a disillusioned rapper speaking to a lover lost.

Masalamose mentions Asian club owner and since retired popular travelling magician Mohammed Siobhan, a staple in Botswana known for traditional Western magic shows who toured schools around Botswana in the 90s and 2000s. Sila Sila, referencing the old children’s song usually sung during pounding of maize using the traditional pestle and mortar, is another standout track. The title track Voodoo’s chorus references an old children’s game involving sleight of hand. It’s from this game that Eli draws comparison to his wordplay — he does the work of a magician with the Setswana Language making miracles ultimately finding himself in disbelief of his own abilities.

A majority of the tracks barely reach the 3 minute mark which makes you feel as though Eli was not fully committed to expounding his ideas and vision. However, you’d be hard pressed to find an unimpressive line or metaphor on this album. The inelegance of his flow on songs like Masalamos’ and Voodoo is forgiven and compensated by his beautiful use of the Setswana language.

Voodoo raps is a Motswako showcase using Setswana folklore and pop culture references and reverence as vehicles of expression. This church of Motswako is pastored by him and Voodoo Raps is the scripture through which the masses will be saved and gain redemption. Voodoo Raps is the scripture that admonishes and rebukes those that have not seen the light or listeners and creators alike who have strayed from it, sedated with music forms that give no substance. Voodoo raps gives comfort to the weak and weary. Voodoo Raps is a Setswana culture time capsule of sorts that deserves to be studied and dissected as a scholarly scroll for young children because of its density and complexity.

Listen to the album in its entirety:

Words by Kwaku Gyanteh — Researcher & Consumer of Culture | Writer | Digital Content Creator | Twitter: @KwakusNotAmused