SEI SIREN is a 22-year-old artist from Pretoria, who primarily makes electronic and alternative music, though she isn’t afraid to genre-bend. "Hubedu" (translating to red in Sepedi) is her second body of work, following her first project in 2018, "SIRENS WATA". Charting at #3 on Apple Music's Electronic charts as independent musician - she's built a bit of traction based on her music quality.
So now, let's dive into Hubedu.
The opening track, "Mmino" sees SEI once again opting for a title derived from Sepedi. As "Mmino'' translates to music. It’s a fitting track name, as the song sees the violin being played at a steady tempo. The violin solo is very elegant and structured, with the pace going up and down at various points, which evokes different emotions within you. From feelings of joy, to feeling of sadness with the introduction of additional string chords or piano keys. For a song titled "music", it truly serves as a great introduction to the album but also portrays what music is well. Despite only using the natural sounds of instruments to do so.
"Obtuse" jumps right into action. With a faster paced tempo, made up of a very noticeably kick, hi-hats in the background that jingle similarly to a tambourine, and the electronic keyboard. SEI SIREN comes in singing, sirens (ironically) now being heard in the background as a part of the instrumentation. It all comes at you right in the face and works well altogether.
Her singing is very free flowing and goes at its own comfort rather than following a specific tempo, opting for a more unorthodox one.
She sings, "I knew I'd regret it the moment I said it," and "I knew I would miss you the moment left you and yet I said go away" and these are refrains she repeats throughout. Which creates a narrative regarding what seems to be her love life or even personal life. Seems to speak of someone she knew, someone who she was deeply attached to, but knew it would be better to let go of. With the final lines being "but don't confuse you for a muse", she seems to have clarity and she now knows better than solely her emotions.
"Odourless" starts off with a nice drum pattern, before the electronic keys come in, to give off a groovy retro sound you'd expect to year in "Back To The Future".
What I love about the opening line is that it jumps straight into the theme/title of the song. "None of the things smell of you anymore. Suppose it's time I move on." This is a beautiful imagery to describe something "odourless". The track continues in this theme of aiming to find something new because her current position feels very stagnant. Well-executed.
"Kgotlelo Asked" sees SEI playing the piano in a very menacing and sporadic manner. It feels like a scene in a play that would symbolize either the beginning of a new act or the end of an old one. And signal incoming danger or importance. I think where it's positioned in the tracklist adds to this feel as well. And overall, the manner of her piano playing, from high notes to low notes at a random order, makes for an unpredictability beautiful sound.
"Red Horns'' is another which is only an instrumental. It sees a more modern approach to the sound. But while SEI adopts a more afro-pop sound, it sounds as though she is focused more so on the "afro'', as a ton of African influences can be heard in the direction she undertakes. Such as the banging of African drums in the background of the kicks. A pleasant listen.
"Rescue". SEI gets into her alternative and more "rock" bag. As the song has a good drum pattern, followed with a lovely string bass and riff, which gives it a more aggressive tone. Lyrically, SEI provides us with great use of imagery yet again, which relates to the title.
"I don't assume you have to save me, why do you?
My hands grow weary, I’ve been holding on.
The rescues coming,
So why do I still keep holding strong?"
Questions of attachment to someone she knows she needs to be rescued from, or ignoring someone who possibly came to save her. The latter implying that she doesn’t want to be saved but needs to be saved through her own will.
"The lessons not learned so the pattern returns".
Towards the end of the song, the drum pattern increases faster and faster, which makes it feel more anxious. Intentional when looking at her questions.
Next, is "Hot Pinkk". This sees SEI diving into the expectations of women within society, and deals with the system that is patriarchy. As SEI SIREN speaks about what death means for women, especially in traditional culture. At the end of the song, SEI SIREN sings:
"Bogadi ba Mosadi,
Lebitla la Mosadi,
Tswara thipa ka bogale,
Oh Mosadi, Oh Mosadi!"
Two idioms in Sepedi. The first which means that a woman is expected to be buried with the family of her husband. And the second which talks about how a woman carries the sharpest point of a knife. This links to what she talks about in the beginning/throughout the song. Of surrounded by the redness of the soil (typically in a grave) and how you're not a woman until you experience this, showing how woman are not viewed independently from their responsibilities and societal expectations. This is a powerful message, done over more electronic production as well.
"All" starts off very high tempo. With a fast pace to the kicks and a use of synths. "All, all, all is forgiven. I won't forget what it felt like, but I'm going to forget you". The message here is quite clear and straight forward. Dealing with forgiveness and tying to previous themes of struggling to let go, here – she seems to be finally letting go. Forgiving but forgetting the person, rather than the experience. Taking a new idea to "forgive and forget".
The penultimate track is "We belong everywhere". The synths on here are gorgeous to listen to. And the song has a euphoric feeling, almost like acceptance. This ties to the themes SEI presents regarding finding the "parts" of yourself. Her singing the lyrics, "Love who you love" likely referring to the LGBTQI and creating a song of liberation within sexuality (LGBTQ+). Especially in reference to the title. Not only does it have a strong message, she also exhibits her growth.
And the final track, "Apocalypse Evacuation". Kicks it off immediately with the idea of apocalypse. She sings
"Lefase la fela, please evacuate,
Look for all the exits,
The World is coming to an end soon,
I'll wait, I'll wait."
She seems okay with the thought, which is eerie in a sense, especially because the tearing of a page can be heard. Alongside an instrumental filled with musical tension and the lack of chord resolution, it carries high suspense. This ends the album off in a manner which seems to come to terms with accepting the end. It’s a sombre ending but not every ending has to be uplifting.
In conclusion, "Hubedu" is a solid body of work by SEI SIREN. I've been trying to understand why she may have called it "red", but I think that it lies in what red represents. Which are things like love, anger and emotion. All in which the album represents. I think that SEI SIREN manages to show her unique style and versatility in genres throughout the project. She exhibits her range, tries different sounds and it’s important to note how she produced EVERYTHING on here (which is crazy, to say the least). She’s incredible talented.
The way she structures her music is very well-organised, even when attempting more experimentally. Which allows her to manage to tie together a retro feel and modern feel together. Whilst embracing her Pedi roots, which she wears with on her sleeve, she stays true to herself.
While, at times I do get the feeling that she needs to be more dynamic, especially in her singing. As she mainly sticks to one note/harmony and I think that she could look to show more with her voice rather than using vocal effects which can become redundant. Another critique – she could try add new things and melodical progressions in her production – while generally good, the production doesn’t progress much and is at times, simple.
SEI is skilled. She’s capable of saying a lot without needing many words. But you could argue that she could add more depth to her writing, even though I do think that the subtle approach suits her style. Minimalism is an art-form and she’s mastered it well. So while SEI does show a lot of strengths, I still think that there is even more room for growth.
All in all, Hubedu showcases that she has a lot of quality at the moment, but even the potential to make something absolutely great once she perfects putting together all the pieces she displays. There is no doubt that she has a high ceiling.
Written by: Ipeleng Thobejane | Twitter @InsightThobe
Edited by: Dithekgo Mogadime | Twitter @DithekgoM