The debut LP from Berklee-educated singer Colby Ewatuya explores the relationship between his physical illness and learning to be comfortable in his own skin.

Joseph Colby Oghenetega Ewatuya’s music takes on new meaning once the listener learns that the Dallas-raised singer lives with debilitating sickle cell anemia. The lyrics on “Flesh,” the strongest cut on Ewatuya’s debut LP, Body, develop a poignant urgency when listened to in context: “I’m tired of popping pills in the morning / I’m tired of waking disoriented / This will haunt me to my dying day / But I won’t let you see me this way.”

An uninformed listen might render the perception of Ewatuya—who goes by the stage name TEGA—as another hedonistic, drug-obsessed college student battling inner demons. In reality, Ewatuya’s struggles are anything but internal; they manifest themselves in the dangers of external exacerbators to his pulmonary disease: cold weather, the stress of going to a world-renowned music school, and the fatigue of performance. Suddenly, the lyrics within “Flesh” become as real and painful as the song’s title suggests.

But Ewatuya’s reflections on the carnal are not restricted to lamentations on physical ailments; they also deal with the modern connotations that often accompany the concept of the body in this day and age. His music is most powerful when it deals directly with uncontrollable physical characteristics imposed on people for the rest of the world to see. On the album closer, “Melanin,” Ewatuya sings, “Look at the colors / Envy the colors[…] / Isn’t it duller to be absent-pigmented / Doesn’t that make us limited?” Meanwhile on “Maria, V2,” Ewatuya muses on his mother’s strength: “That girl has a weighted smile / Enthusiasm was removed from her style / Tough love with nothing to say/And took her smile away.” Ewatuya affirms that forces beyond our control can simultaneously reveal both the scars of our past and the path to transcendence over that which attempts to oppress us.

Frank Ocean, Sampha, and Jamila Woods’ influences are present throughout the album. Backed by Berklee musicians, Ewatuya melodically speeds through his verses in “Flesh” as unpredictably as Woods does in her song, “HEAVN.” The beginning of “Maria, V2” and the end of “Scars” include voicemails reminiscent to those included in both of Frank Ocean’s albums. The piano intro on “Flesh” sounds like the beginning of a Sampha song. Unlike the aforementioned artists however, Ewatuya emphasizes live rather than electronic instrumentation on most of his tracks; hi-hats, cross sticks, wailing guitars, and jazzy grand piano chords abound. The rawness of Ewatuya’s sonic approach matches the honesty in his lyrics. More electronic cuts on the album distract from the songs’ lyrical depth.

Body is most convincing when it deals with the real and the concrete; album opener “Mister Elephant” is too abstract to express Ewatuya’s thematic concerns. The repetition of phrases or words such as “melanin” are not as effective when directed to a generic lover such as the one in “For You.”  On his debut, Ewatuya proves that true vulnerability requires suffering, but true redemption—through art—can only come through being vulnerable.

One Response

  1. KAREN MCGHEE

    Awesome !!! I love it!!! I love Jazz .Colby I’m so… Proud of you.keep it moving!!!

    Reply

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