John Orpheus Brings His Globe-Hopping Story to Life on 'Saga King'
Published Jul 29, 2021John Orpheus has combined his artistic vocations as both musical performer and author into the nuanced and eclectic album Saga King. It's inspired by Saga Boy, his recently published memoir, which further connects the songs to his life story. While the book explains his border-hopping personal journey from Trinidad to Canada, the accompanying album is a foray into the breadth of Orpheus' genre-defying musical scope.
On "IG," the opening track's impactful drums provide an energetic backdrop for Orpheus to showcase his strong songwriting, singing about persevering in the face of academic obstacles and geographical relocations. The themes in the album's songs reflect the memoir's diasporic origin story, while the regional influences are heard throughout the record. The omnipresent influence of the Caribbean is felt with "We Nah Worry About Dat" whilst a turbulent bass is grounded by the Calypso sample on "Carnival." Furthering the autobiographical nature of the project, Orpheus offers a parallel between his life story and the destinies of Fela Kuti and Bob Marley on "Fela Awoke (I Will Miss You)." The importance of motherly figures and the quest to try to find a place to call home are mirrored in lyrics that comment on these musical legends' legacies.
The soulful ting of "Mango Tree" will speak to broader audiences and is a perfect sultry introduction for new fans to get into Orpheus' sound. Finally, in contrast with some of the more dense production, the simplicity of "U Look Cute When U Smile" feels refreshing and serves to close out Saga King on an upbeat note. Although it would be easy to qualify the record as an ode to summer on first listen, there is much more to unpack.
John Orpheus turns cliché terms like 'world music,' 'eclectic collage' and 'autobiographical' on their heads with his confident writing and delivery. This driven creative push is what carries this ambitious project and completes the book and album's one-two knockout. Ultimately, Orpheus weaves a familiar tale of travel, adversity and growth, but is wholly unique in his approach. (The Confidence Emperors)