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With a brand new R&B and hip-hop acts out in the music store every week, you canít be blamed for finding it difficult to tell one from the other. And when all the songs are about either bling, booty or both, the landscape tends to get a bit dull. So when a sweetly plaintive tune about being oh-so-lonely quietly made its way to music lovers earlier this year, itís no wonder they all sat up and took notice.

The artist behind the song was Senegalese-American artist Akon, sounding so lonesome he could cry, but in a tune so catchy, everyone wanted to sing along. His smooth R&B singing over charming chipmunk-processed vocals made a striking combination and suddenly Lonely was The Song You Couldnít Get Out Of Your Head.

Akonís musical journey began back in Africa. His family is headed by legendary percussionist and jazz musician Mor Thiam, whose expertise for playing the Djembe, a traditional African drum, has been touted as "unrivalled." Being brought up in a musical environment meant that it was no surprise when young Akon began playing several different percussion instruments.

Surprisingly however, when he had his first brush with hip-hop music and culture, he wasnít impressed! Having moved to the United States when he was seven, he recalls, "When I first heard hip-hop I thought it was rubbish because I didn't understand the concept of people talking over music. But as I started growing up, living a little and listening to the lyrics, I realized that I was going through a lot of stuff these rappers were talking about and I could relate."

His growing respect for hip-hop influenced his developing song writing and producing skills. Several songs on his debut record Trouble pay homage to the early hip-hop which influenced him. For example, tracks such as Show Out. Over the sparse yet hard hitting groove he sings "Don't tempt me/'Cuz I'm close to the edge/I'm trying not to lose my head," and cleverly integrates original school lyrics, paying respect to hip-hop pioneers while maintaining his own identity.

But itís not all loneliness and heartache in Akon-land. His single Bananza (Belly Dance) exhibits Mr. Lonelyís playful side. He puts forth a feel-good vibe and the infectiously up-tempo dance beat is designed to improve every listener's mood. Says Akon, "There are a lot of negative things going on today. We need to party and just have fun. Bananza... is a party record. You just go in the club, party and enjoy those beautiful women." Well, thereís got to be atleast one token booty song right?

You can read the rest of our feature on Akon in the July 2005 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.

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