Toronto based singer songwriter Kae Sun turned to his native Ghana for inspiration for his new EP, Outside the Barcode. The return to his homeland after nine years of living in Canada renewed his drive for creating the raw and non-commoditized artistic experiences that shaped his passion for music.
Outside the Barcodeis an authentic and reflective collection of songs that showcase Kae’s growth as a songwriter, storyteller and guitarist. Written while traveling the African countryside and recorded on 2-inch tape on a farm in Ontario the raw acoustic songs recall the sense of community and authenticity that inspired the tracks. Kae’s focus was to create a more shared listening experience rather than dictating his audience’s experiences.
“It’s not about making music to get something out of people, but rather sharing experiences, capturing moments and communicating through music and lyrics,” he says. The result is an EP that conjures the collaborative spirit and culture of sharing that Kae experienced in Ghana.
This new effort by the singer-songwriter builds on the success of his previous releases. Lion on a Leash(2009), the well-received follow up to his EP Ghost Town(2007) landed on the iTunes 2009 Rewind List and earned esteemed reviews from Exclaim, The Montreal Gazette, OkayPlayer.comand topped many critic’s lists for top indie release of the year. The success of Kae’s work has led him to play venues and festivals across Canada, UK, Dubai and Ghana.
Outside The Barcodeis available as of June 29 via Kae’s website.
Kae Sun - guitar and vocals
occassionally appearing on stage:
Justin Gray - Bass
Mike Brooks - Guitar
Shawn Rompre - Drums
Kojo Damptey - Keys
Soliloquy LP - January 2006 (Life Records)
Ghost Town Prophecy - August 2007 (Last Press Label/AWAL)
Lion On A Leash (CAN) - October 6th, 2009 (Urbnet)
Natural Mystic - October 12th, 2010 (MB3)
Lion On A Leash (US) - November 9th, 2010 (MB3)
Outside The Barcode EP - June 29th, 2011 (Self Released)
Album Review: Kae Sun - Lion On A Leash
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Kae Sun Lion on a Leash Urbnet Records : 2010 Rating: 80/100 Kae Sun is a songwriter whose w...Kae Sun
Lion on a Leash
Urbnet Records : 2010
Kae Sun is a songwriter whose work transcends contemporary definitions and exists in a realm of its own. A poetic observer of the human experience, his music is designed to touch without suffocating the listener with faux illusions of authenticity or grandeur. Instead he turns his observations into questions, engaging his generation in debate over direction and thoughts on tomorrow. His love songs are both passionate and beautiful, delivered with the sincerity of an old soul.
The mostly self produced Lion on a Leash is a collection of heartfelt, well written songs that successfully combine elements of hip-hop, roots reggae and soul. He also adds elements of afro-funk, influenced by his Ghanaian upbringing. This combination gives him the freedom afforded the likes of K-os and Q-tip to tell his story in different shades without being beholden to one color. The production is simple, raw and sometimes rough.
While he shines as an MC, he does occasionally suffer from overly ambitious lyricism, trying to jam pack words into spaces where they don’t necessarily fit. As a singer he conveys his passion in a manner reminiscent of early singer/songwriters.
To put out something this good early in his career speaks to his long term potential. A definite must hear for heads looking for diversity in their hip-hop. Stand out joints include “Too Young, Too Soon,” “A Day Goes By,” “How Long” and “Jungle Law.”
Enjoyable and definitely worth checking out.
Band of the Day: Kae Sun
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Band of the Day: Kae Sun Born in Accra, and now based in Hamilton, Ontario, Kae Sun (Kwaku Darko-...Band of the Day: Kae Sun
Born in Accra, and now based in Hamilton, Ontario, Kae Sun (Kwaku Darko-Mensah) blends a wide range of styles - reggae, gospel, hip-hop and acoustic roots - into a powerful, free-flowing party with a message. His debut full length, Lion on a Leash, was released earlier this month - featuring Kae taking turns soulfully singing over sexy guitar lines with a bit of a Ben Harper feel, flipping over into a Marley-esque vocal line and then rapping over his acoustic guitar, bringing to mind fellow Canuck hip-hopper Shad.
His previous EPs made his name on a local level, capped with winning the best hip-hop award at the 2006 Hamilton Music Awards, and the well-crafted, well-executed Lion on a Leash should spread his name across the rest of the country.
Album Review: Kae Sun - Lion On A Leash
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Kae Sun – Lion On A Leash Urbnet: 2010 Freedom, or at least the pursuit of it, lies at the heart...Kae Sun – Lion On A Leash
Freedom, or at least the pursuit of it, lies at the heart of every creature’s existence. There’s the monetary freedom that many of us struggle to attain, due to daily living expenses, mounting debt and other financial obligations we accrue. Then there is the artistic freedom that eludes many signed entertainers, who are often forced to kowtow to the crippling whims of commanding record label executives and the listening public. Kwaku Darko-Mensah — Kae Sun for short — is an activist in search of a deep and everlasting freedom, if his debut album Lion On A Leash is an indication of his ideals. For 43 minutes, the Ghana native sings, raps and downright pleads for the long overdue liberation of the Dark Continent, while also imploring Earth’s inhabitants to find their own piece of heaven. What results is a mature album that is as much Fela as it is Nas, coherently leapfrogging from traditional Afrobeat to conscious hip-hop, from Western soul to progressive spoken word poetry.
The quest for freedom through song is often attempted with mixed results, so Lion On A Leash doesn’t blaze a trail in that regard. On U.S. soil, however, it seems as if most artists have shied away from that topic, possibly because there isn’t much for which to fight, especially when compared with activists from previous generations who clawed for the basic civil rights we sometimes take for granted. As for Africa, many of its musicians have also fought for equality, perhaps none more famously than the aforementioned Fela — the godfather of Afrobeat — whose music decried political corruption and covert surveillance tactics in his native Nigeria. But, while Fela’s messages were sometimes hidden beneath rousing horns and Tony Allen’s stellar percussion, Kae Sun’s pleas are more direct, especially on the primal title track, which condemns “sleepwalkers” and praises dream chasers. “Don’t let ‘em mold your mind, because they can’t hold a lion on a leash,” Kae sings over a melodic acoustic guitar.
Keeping with the animalistic theme, Kae himself seemed much more predatory on his previous project — the six-song Ghost Town Prophecy EP released in 2007. While Lion is polished and organized, Prophecy was distinctively raw and visceral, which puts the sensibility of his new album in greater context. For instance, a song like “Angels By Day”, the centerpiece of his previous project, captivates musically, even if Kae misses the mark due to uneven pitch and irregular tone. On Lion, however, the artist has substituted coarse rhythms with smoother compositions and calmer vocal reflections. “How Long”, which showcases Kae’s fluid guitar work, finds him questioning the time-line for justice and stating that society isn’t far removed from slavery. Here, Kae sings: “Four hundred years, and it’s the same philosophy/Blood, sweat and tears, and my people can’t be free.” On the subdued “Black Candles”, with its somber percussion and strings, the artist takes a somber look at how one’s decisions can shape life’s course. Lion is not entirely revolutionary though, as the methodical, reggae-tinged “Going The Distance” reflects upon loneliness and a relationship gone sour.
In a perfect world, nirvana would be within everyone’s grasp, but unfortunately, certain nationalities and countries will always have to fight harder than their peers for spiritual and fiscal liberation. If nothing else, Kae Sun does his best to emancipate the human race and influence his contemporaries to strive for higher purposes. In some ways, Lion On A Leash acts as a personal diary for the artist, for which he tells the world about his personal growth over the last three years. On his last project, it felt as if Kae was trying to find his place amongst his fellow music visionaries. Ultimately, Lion helps him take another step toward his own independence, even if it doesn’t catapult him to prominence.
3 out of 5
Hip-hop's true believer
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K. Darko Mensah, a.k.a. Kae Sun, is a man of faith and a man of words. Born in Ghana, West Africa ...K. Darko Mensah, a.k.a. Kae Sun, is a man of faith and a man of
words. Born in Ghana, West Africa an area of the world credited
as the birthplace of soul and blues music Kae was raised on the
joyous, boisterous sounds of the Sunday morning African church
service. Enticed by the ubiquitous influence of hip hop, he picked
up a guitar in his midteens, and started experimenting with
rhymes and lyrics.
I enjoy words, poetry, music...words are really powerful, he
declares. Gotta be careful how you use themthey're like bullets.
The bible likens the word of God to a sword, and it really is. The
tongue is a terrible missile launcher.
A number of years and many travels later, Kae is now a poet,
a performer and a philosopher, leader of a sextet, and proud papa
of his new release, the aptlynamed Soliloquy, featuring a blend
of soul, rock and hip hop that puts the proverbial and literal
spotlight on his everevolving lyrical grace.
Recording Soliloquy was a learning experience for me, he
muses. It was a period where I was beginning to realize possible
routes I could take with my music. Being around gifted musicians
such as Jordan Abraham, who coproduced the record, opened
me up to possibilities that are not usually utilized within the hip
hop genre or popular music in general. The overall sound of the
album is raw, beyond category and purposefully underproduced.
I sometimes hesitate to call what I do hip hop because its not too
faithful to the tradition. I think it differs mainly because its
played with live instruments as opposed to having just a DJ. Also,
theres an emphasis on song writing.
I am thankful to God that we have barely scratched the
surface, he continues. Its crazy there are things I wish to do
with my music that would make it as intriguing as jazz, as
respectable as classical music, as sexy as soul music, as relevant as reggae music, and as provocative as hip hop and punk rock.
While combining traditional African rhythms, the
characteristic boom bap sound of hip hop, and spiritcleansing
soul, Kae comments on social issues and provides a much
needed dose of spiritual emancipation. He abandons bling for
brains, and his words both embrace and transcend the human
condition. Leaving his birthplace and traveling has had a huge
impact on the way he relates to people through music.
Sometimes we are deceived into thinking we are all so
different from each other. We're really not. Think about it: we
laugh, we cry, we make love, we murder, we do our laundry, get
married. You can be African, Native, Asian, European...we share
hauntingly similar experiences. Thus, [the music is] really a
mandate to heed to the cry of people going through the extremes
of disease and poverty, cus we definitely know how it would feel
if it happened on our side. Thats what travelling taught me.
Kae, who finds inspiration in God, love, life, death, greed,
lust, money, poverty, sorrow, pain, Africa...the list goes on, met
his band mates Tristan Drysdale, Nathan Haldane, Shain Shapiro,
Joel Harvey, and Kojo Damptey, after moving to Hamilton in 2001
to study Multimedia and Philosophy at McMaster University.
Theyve been busy playing shows around southwestern Ontario,
and he says that the hardest part of touring is trying to find time
to type this paper I have due.
I think my studies hinder and enhance my music, explains
Kae. It hinders it because sometimes I am forced to spend more
time studying than I wish to. However, it has enhanced my song
writing because it broadens my consciousness and experiences
through the people I meet and discussions we have.
When asked if he inadvertently weaves in what hes
absorbing in lecture, he laughs, I definitely hope I dont comment on the stuff I study in my musichow boring would it
be to hear a song with quotes from Descartes or Leibniz?
One quote, however, that accompanies most of Kaes press
hints at his philosophy towards the marriage of music and his
beliefs. Its from Nobel Prize winner Andre Gide, who quipped:
Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less
the artist does the better.
For now, Kaes musical and spiritual journey continues as he
and the band enjoy a brief tour of the area to promote the new
album, playing shows in Toronto, Hamilton, and Brantford. Next
stop: Guelphs Club Vinyl, where theyll be joined by performers
Shad K, Embassy, Fountain Street Blues Project, Introspect, and
DJs Tee Lo and Polyvinyl. With a lineup like that, its bound to be
a good night for any hip hop enthusiast.
I think people coming to see us should expect honest
music, says Kae, who anticipates a show that will be soulful and
inspiring, yet casual and laid back.
I think, most of all, people find [the music] refreshing. Who
knows, he jokes, maybe they are just being kind.
w/Shad K, Embassy, and Fountain Street Blues Project
Friday, April 7
Vinyl, Guelph Tix:$7
Kae-Sun Hip-hop Soliloquy
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While it may remain the most underground of underground music in the Steel City, Hamilton's hip ho...While it may remain the most underground of
underground music in the Steel City, Hamilton's hip hop
scene is slowly coming into its own with fans and DJs
taking the music out of the production studios and onto
the live stage. This week another arresting figure steps
in front of the mic, but with a perspective different than
the guns–a– blazin', bling–a–cravin' hedonism of video
channel fare. Kae Sun doesn't avoid the truth, but rather
tries to be a light to shine a little more clearly on it.
The Ghana, West Africa–born K. Darko Mensah is a
traveller and intellectual, whose study in music and
thought has brought him to a new identity in the
Hammer. Combining his international travels and
scholastic endeavours, he is already a poet and
philosopher, musician and mentor, and with his new
identity as Kae Sun, a new disc entitled Soliloquy offers
his moment in the spotlight as an example and educator
in his rhyme and song.
"If the music is relevant, entertaining and creative it
would definitely gain a following, regardless of the genre
or location," muses Kae Sun on the bearings geography
might have on his music. Hamilton has been his home
since 2001, and while he studies multimedia and
philosophy at McMaster University his sights are set on
the future and the possibilities it might hold elsewhere.
"The rest of my family moved to the States a while back,"
recalls the emcee. "My father still lives in Ghana, though.
My move was solely to further my education, and I don't
regret choosing Canada over the States. It's interesting
because most of my broader musical education, outside
of the genres I grew up listening to, has come from my
interactions with the various individuals I've met at
university. So, basically being in school has definitely
given me an appreciation for numerous genres and
styles of music. More importantly, I met the individuals that play in my band on campus.
"I find that some students are interested in the local
music scene; others don't even realize there is one. That
doesn't bother me much—it gives the band and myself
an incentive to work even harder on taking our music far
"I don't consider myself political in any sense, but I do
have a conscience and I have feelings like all humans,"
clarifies Kae Sun. "I'm definitely glad to have the ability
to express these feelings through music. So, my
observations come as a result of years of living on this
planet. Whether I'm in North America, in West Africa,
Europe or wherever, I'm still going to have the urge to
make music about what I see and feel.
"The advantage of having lived on different continents
and in different cities is that you quickly realize that we
are all in this together, the same things make us happy,
same things make us cry, just on different scales I guess.
So it's really not hard for me to write about humanity as a
whole. Basically, certain subjects such as love and
peace are more important to me. Furthermore, I do
believe in God and Christ so that faith informs my views
"My music is definitely defined by my spirituality," he
adds. "It is defined by my views as a result of ascribing to
a certain faith. That faith being Christianity and I think its
important to say that for me Christianity is not a genre of
music—it's a way of life, a belief system. So yes, the
belief in a God does definitely affect the way I make
Lyrically and musically, Kae Sun's expression is for the
most part competent and cosmopolitan, melodic and
mature, and even at times as inspiring as it is inspired,
casting aside the boasting that permeates pop hip hop
and delving into his own musical roots from the classics.
Whether it be noted philosopher Andre Gide or touted rapper Chuck D, his geographical and musical history
shines through a glossy mix of gritty rhyme.
"What drew me as a youngster to Rakim, Nas and
Public Enemy was the manner in which they used their
music to reflect their views on a variety of issues," offers
Kae Sun on some of his early inspirations. "Public
Enemy for one had a politically charged, socially
conscious mentality. Nas and Rakim are straight–up
poets in the same vein as Langston Hughes, in my
opinion. These artists showed me how important hip hop
could be in self–expression.
"And traditional West African music, for the most part, is
percussion–based with the vocals being a sort of 'call
and response' between the lead singer and the
participants," adds the singer on other influences. "The
lyric is the focus, and it almost always deals with issues
relevant to a given community; so in essence it is
educational and entertaining. So naturally, in my music I
tend to focus on issues that affect me as a result of being
a part of this community of humanity, without being
"The Boom–bap is a term used to describe the basic hip
hop break beat—just the sound of the kick and the snare
drums—very steady and heavy. It's interesting because
in West African music the drum is mostly the focus;
similarly with the whole hip hop boom–bap thing, the
drum is the focus. So really, it's all the same influence,
the same concept, but from different traditions.
"I think my music is original in the sense that it's
highlighted this link between West African traditions and
a style of music invented by Africans living in the
Diaspora. Just goes to show that most times genres just
separate what is really a universal need for communal
Set to a backdrop of a lush string section, Soliloquy
kicks off with Kae Sun coming off as a kinder, gentler Dr. Dre with the anthemic "Celebrate Yourself" and quickly
veers to the reggae–infused, uplifting "Stay Up." Before
the disc's conclusion, Kae Sun samples soul, funk, jazz
and even classical tinges into the mix showcasing a
diverse approach that isn't afraid to work outside the
Recorded at Studio J, Soliloquy is not a one– man show
but a full–on production. While Kae Sun handles vocals,
guitar, keyboard, drum and drum programming duties,
he enlists producer Jordan Abraham on electric piano,
organ and keyboard, Tristan Drysdale on electric guitar,
bass, and drums, Tom Bigas on congas and drums,
Illana Culleton on saxophone, and DJ Eazy on
additional drum programming—and for the live show,
latest recruits Shain Shapiro and Joel Harvey.
Set for a national release on Toronto–based Life
Records Entertainment, the right promotional plan could
easily bring Kae Sun to the majors and national attention
quickly. But with his entering the spotlight, Kae Sun
rebukes a narrow–minded belief that violence must
accompany any music form but in particular hip hop. Kae
Sun's soliloquy is less about this oh–so– sullied flesh
and more about the soul that drives his creativity. As
singer, emcee, poet or reluctant politician, Kae Sun is an
artist who hopes to educate through example.
"I have come to understand that the media is rewriting
history," Kae Sun notes on the fear of the arrival of
serious violence in the local clubs and streets after
gangland–style shootings. "The so–called violent hip
hop culture is entertaining; it's intriguing especially to the
individuals that do not understand the lifestyle. Violence,
poverty and injustice go hand in hand. These problems
exist all over the world with or without gangster rap.
"I think the problem is when this violence is glamorized
and commercialized. When young black males are made to feel they can only be respected when they
partake in a certain lifestyle. This problem is deeper than
just hip–hop music; I mean you don't see people walking
around blaming James Bond for every gun–related
crime a white person commits. In my opinion, the media
and society to some extent typecasts individuals in
certain roles, I can tell you that from being African. Soon
enough people get comfortable sitting in the boxes
society has created. Hopefully, my life and music can
The Kae Sun CD Release Party for Soliloquy happens
this Thursday, January 12 at The Underground with MJ
(aka Toronto based MC/producer/Mac Student Miles
Jones), Fresh Pro's Fundamental and O–Dot, and John
P of Blitz Kliq. V
Versatility defines Kae Sun
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(Jan 12, 2006) K. Darko-Mensah -- a.k.a. Kae Sun -- lives in two worlds. It's almost literally ...(Jan 12, 2006)
K. Darko-Mensah -- a.k.a. Kae Sun -- lives in two worlds.
It's almost literally so -- while he currently lives in Hamilton, he is still deeply connected to his native Ghana in west Africa.
His new album, Soliloquy, also lives in two worlds, so to speak, combining the rhythms of hiphop with live instrumentation. The songs combine the western and the African, the gospel and the secular, the social and the spiritual. Much of the latter comes from the church, which had an enormous influence on Kae Sun's music.
"I grew up in church, basically," says Kae Sun. "So every Sunday, from when I was about four years old, was like a live music event. You'd go to church and there's a band playing."
Music was also prevalent in his home, as his mom sang in the choir and his father plays "a little bit of piano." The music in church melded with his father's American soul record collection and, eventually, a love of hiphop.
Before he left Ghana, Kae Sun began toying with the concept of combining live instrumentation and hiphop. When he arrived in Canada, he discovered that there were indeed artists -- though few -- who used that approach.
"When I moved here and started going to school," he says, "I began to learn about bands like The Roots that were doing hiphop with live instruments. So I thought now is the time for me to try a hand at this."
Kae Sun came to Hamilton to attend pre-university courses at Columbia International College. Having grown accustomed to his adopted home, he then enrolled at McMaster just down the road.
After getting involved in an MC competition at the Casbah, he began actively pursuing music here, eventually attracting some like-minded musicians and putting together the group that is now his backing band.
The popular music of Ghana is called High Life, and in many ways it sounds similar to calypso. High Life has had a large influence on Kae Sun, both musically and lyrically.
"In Ghana, music is a communal thing," says Kae Sun. "It's not just for leisure or entertainment. It's talking about what's going on within our community, it's a way of educating each other and entertaining each other as well."
For Kae Sun, the problem in mainstream hip-hop isn't that artists are "too gangsta" or not positive enough.
It's more that artists like 50 Cent have an opportunity to share their thoughts with the world, and yet what they share makes them appear one-dimensional at best.
"The problem is not with the gangsterness of it," he explains, "because I guess if that's what (50 Cent) feels he is, then that's cool -- but is that all you are? Is that all there is to a person?"
James Tennant is a local writer and Program Director at 93.3 CFMU FM.
K augurs success in Canadian hiphop
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Soulful, socially conscious Canadian hip-hop has a new name to champion. And since K-os and K'Naan h...Soulful, socially conscious Canadian hip-hop has a new name to champion. And since K-os and K'Naan have proven the success of the letter K, it won't be too difficult to embrace Kae Sun -- especially since he sounds so good.
Born in Ghana, the McMaster multimedia student also known as K. Darko Mensah takes cues from African rhythms, hip-hop beats and melodic soul. On his debut album, Soliloquy (released late last year on Life Records), the musician shows his adeptness as a rhymer, vocalist, guitarist and producer.
A fan of Rakim, Nas and Bob Marley as much as Bob Dylan and Langston Hughes, Kae Sun uses Soliloquy to showcase his diverse interests. The opening Celebrate Yourself borrows from string-laden old-school soul, the stomping Dis Retrospect kicks out beep-jam beats and the low-key Swing Low lays down hand drums, walking guitar lines and passionate vocals.
Meanwhile, a recently released offshoot EP, titled Soliloquy 1.2, showcases his casual, off-the-cuff style in raw recordings from his living room.
Rounding out his sound with a backing band, Kae Sun stops off at the Alex P. Keaton tomorrow night with openers One Way Trip. Doors open at 9 p.m. and there is no cover charge.
30 - 60 Minutes
Configuration Options dependant on event:
Trio (Vocal, Acoustic Guitar, Percussion, Stand Up Bass)
4 Piece (Vocal, Acoustic Guitar, Drums, Bass, Electric Guitar)
5 Piece (Vocal, Acoustic Guitar, Drums, Bass, Electric Guitar, Keys)
Full Band (5 Piece plus 2 back up singers)
There are no upcoming dates at this time.