City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto is grounded in a combination of soulful house and electronic sounds, along with Nicolay's distinctive interpretation of South African percussive sounds. The album fluctuates between a vibrant house music experience to much more subdued mid- to downtempo cuts that at certain points almost take on ambient vibes. The more vibrant side is found on tracks like "Tomorrow," "It's in the Way You Smile" and the sonically fluid and rich "Day Dreams," which is reminiscent of the music of Roy Ayers.
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Together, they've made several albums, toured the world, been nominated for a Grammy and built a little independent empire under the name The Foreign Exchange. But Coleman raps and sings from Raleigh, while the Dutch-born Nicolay lives in Wilmington. The space between them must be fertile, as they both pursue separate artistic offshoots. Coleman has his hip-hop and TV endeavors, while Nicolay has just released his expansive fourth solo album, City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto, in which he offers up a Euro-soul take on South Africa's native rhythms.
After The Foreign Exchange's May 2014 performance in Johannesburg, the group left the city by way of the colorful Nelson Mandela Bridge, pictured on Soweto's cover. The city's bridge, house music, people, Zulu language and the unexpected pandemonium surrounding their performance there inspired Nicolay when he sat down to make the first City Lights set in six years.
From Wilmington, Nicolay spoke about the thought process behind the record and how he hopes to avoid the pitfalls of Prince and Paul McCartney.
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Just as comfortable in a studio setting as in live performance, this gifted Dutch musician, who now resides in North Carolina, recently spoke openly to me about topics such as how both Prince and Thundercat inspire him, the special working relationship he shares with Phonte (his partner in The Foreign Exchange), his opinion on the current wave of African electronic music, and how he views spirituality in terms of his creativity. Read on and be enlightened.