Veteran Ghanaian reggae musician and roots rocker Rocky Dawuni has always been interested in cross-cultural connections, both in his music and in his activism. His latest album is titled Branches of the Same Tree, and again and again, Dawuni finds underlying unity in the seemingly disparate. Dawuni’s debts to Bob Marley and Fela Kuti are clear, but the range of musical references is also far flung. The upbeat opening track, “Shine A Light,” points clearly to New Orleans funk and gospel, while the Hawaiian ukulele makes an appearance on a cover of Marley’s “Butterfly” as well as on “Island Girl,” the album’s closing track.
The theme of unity is also explored lyrically throughout, in songs evidently inspired by Dawuni’s travels. “Children of Abraham” hopes for peaceful coexistence in Israel and Palestine, and “Nairobi,” a plaintive ode to the Kenyan city, calls on its inhabitants to transcend tribal and political divisions. Dawuni takes on a more strident, assertive tone in the rousing African unity anthem, “Black Star,” which is the album’s real standout track. This is picked up again in the album’s second Bob Marley cover, Dawuni’s interpretation of the classic “Get Up, Stand Up,” which he sings in Ghanaian pidgin and gives a distinct Afrobeat flavor.
The production on the album is incredibly slick, with solid performances from Dawuni’s star-studded roster of musicians. And solid is perhaps the best word to sum up this album–while there is little here that will surprise or startle longtime listeners, it has a cohesive, coherent vision, expertly executed.