City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto
June 9, 2015
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The Dutch producer explains each song on the new installment in his City Lights series.On Tuesday, Nicolay released his new solo album, 'City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto'. 'Soweto' is an ode to the South African township and it's neighboring city of Johannesburg, the site of The Foreign Exchange's triumphant South African debut performance in 2014. In this track-by-track breakdown, Nicolay shares the background behind each of its 10 tracks.
Simply put, I wanted to open the album with a bang; a big and bold introduction of what's to come. When I first came up with the melody and the basic groove I must have played it for hours and hours on end, that's how much I was into it. It has a hopeful and optimistic, almost ecstatic, feel to it, and when it was time to come up with a title, I kept coming back to the word "Tomorrow". As in, the promise of a better tomorrow.
Those beautiful vocal harmonies at the end are Phonte and Carmen Rodgers. Lead and additional rhythm guitar duties by Chris Boerner.
"IT'S IN THE WAY THAT YOU SMILE"
I have been a fan of South African house music for a few years now, after being introduced to the work of artists like Black Coffee by my partner Phonte. This track is a European's take on a house track with a South African feel... In a (relatively) odd meter. Still with me?
I called it "It's In The Way That You Smile" and you can interpret that title in a number of different ways, like the smile of a lover or loved one, or the beautiful smiles of a people.
Phonte is setting the track off with the George Kranz "Din Daa Daa"-inspired intro and the lead vocal is by Tamisha Waden, with Phonte providing the backings.
"Aurora" is one of the more downtempo cuts on the album. "Just keep dancing, don't you stop... ", sings Tamisha Waden, a line that we'll hear pop up again in "The Secret", underscoring the fact that this is an album that you can (and should) dance to.
"The Chase" is meant to be played while cruising with the top down. Take a ride...
This was the only track on the album that proved to be a true struggle before it revealed its final form to me. I had the first part ("Sun Rings") for a while before coming up with the transition and the second part with the percussion ("Uprising") late one night while I was wrapping up the album. I instantly realized it had become one of the low-key stronger cuts, and in a lot of ways is it the one-two punch of "Sun Rings/Uprising" and "The Brightest Star" represents the spiritual anchor of the album.
The wind chimes that you hear in the second part are actually the wind chimes in the back yard of my house.
"THE BRIGHTEST STAR"
When we released "The Brightest Star" as a single a few weeks ago, we really only released the first half of the track, and I was SO looking forward to people's reactions once they heard the album and "The Brightest Star" didn't stop but instead kept going into this whole other... thing.
Vocals by Phonte and Carmen Rodgers. The vocoder parts in the second part of the track ("The brightest star is in your heart") are by yours truly. I'm a big Herbie Hancock fam, and this part is inspired by some of my favorite tracks from his "Sunlight" album.
Every now and then, a track will just "come" to me. As in, I have NO idea where that just came from. "Daydream" is one of those tracks that I did during a late night session and that I still loved the next morning even though I really couldn't tell you how I got to it.
Tamisha Waden and Phonte feature on background vocals.
From si- ("we") -ya- (present tense) -wu- ("you") -bona ("to see"), therefore literally meaning "we see you".
Figuratively, it means "hello".
Vocals provided by the lovely Tamisha Waden. Let's go all the way...
There's not much that I can say about "The Secret" because it's... well, "The Secret". This track keeps changing, like a chameleon. And that's probably what I love most about it. It runs through four or five different sections before culminating in a full-blown boogie climax, complete with strings, horns and a Bobby Z-inspired syn drum solo.
Vocal duties handled by my partner Phonte.
"THERE IS A PLACE FOR US"
A heavy responsibility rests on"There Is A Place For Us" as it closes out the album. Unlike "Departure" from 'City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya', 'There Is A Place For Us' is not a goodbye, but rather an expression of homecoming.
I recorded the keyboard solo in one take, and after redoing it countless of times decided that I liked the energy of the first take in all of its flawed glory.