Born and raised in Ghana, the Toronto-based musician Kae Sun has come a long way from studying philosophy at McMaster University and recording his debut album in 2009 on a shoestring budget. The poetic urban folkster, who plays the inaugural CBC Music Festival Saturday at Echo Beach, talks about his dynamic new album Afriyie.
For this album, you've redone and beefed up the title song from your first album, Lion on a Leash. Why did you change the title to Lion Unleashed?
The lyric "you can't hold a lion on a leash" has always signified a freedom. But the original acoustic version represents a restriction to me. It was done in two takes, live off the floor for $50 when I was making my first record. Since then, I played the song on tour with a band, and it sounded better with instruments. I had more money for this record, so I decided to call it Lion Unleashed. There were no restrictions.
Some of the tracks off 2011's solo acoustic EP Outside the Barcode also show up in bigger form on this record. Can you talk about the process of making this record, as opposed to your earlier work?
On the first record, I was the producer, going into studios and working with the engineers who were the residents of those studios. For this album, I worked with a couple of people together, as a team. I'd been hearing a certain sound in my head for a while. The people I worked with had the expertise to achieve that sound, for better or worse.
The lead single, Ship and the Globe – it's a love letter, possibly to someone an ocean away?
It's about intimacy, and it's about distance and the dance between closeness and separation. It doesn't have to be a romantic love. It could be about pursuing any passion. There are moments when you wake up and feel that you don't want to make music ever again. And then, the next moment, it's all you want to do.
The second single, When the Pot, is a pop song, which is new for you, isn't it?
Some may say that. I wouldn't call it anything specifically. I know what you mean, though, with the driving beat. Usually a lot of my stuff is a little mellow. But I listen to music that does have that kind of upbeat tempo.
What kind of grooves were you into when you made this record?
Little Dragon, the Swedish band, for sure. I was also listening to Dennis Brown. He was a reggae artist. There was also some rock steady music. A lot of love songs where the rhythm is a little faster than reggae.
Speaking of reggae and lions, do you have any thoughts on the remarkable transformation of Snoop Dogg the rap artist to Snoop Lion the reggae artist?
To be honest, I didn't pay any attention to it. I love reggae. But Americans perceive the music as niche, and the Snoop Lion album just caricatures the genre even more. Reggae and Rasta is associated with smoking a lot of weed and wearing certain colours. But there's more to it than that.
What does the album title, Afriyie, mean?
It means "successful delivery." Literally, I believe, "it has arrived well."
You and the album both?
Yes. It's a good landing.
This interview has been condensed and edited.