Shan Ako’s EP Brave Heart is Radiant with Love and Light

“Love Should Be Our First Thought”
Lean On

“Melodies on broken strings
Remind me of the simple things
There’s more to life than coming first place
Whenever I’m singing I’m singing from here”
Step Up

Shan Ako’s dazzling new EP Brave Heart is compact in length but rich in spirit. Released on August 21, its four featured songs shine with her signature sincerity and spellbinding vocals.  The 27-year-old artist, who hails from South London, gained popularity on The X Factor and most recently played Éponine in the West End’s production of Les Misérables.

With influences from soul and reggae to jazz and gospel, Shan makes her music distinctive through an inspirational tone and a voice that holds the listener rapt. In Lean On she sings “Love should be our first thought,” and indeed love— of family, of self, of those held close— is a prominent thread in this EP. If art is the expression of one’s soul, then Shan’s is radiant here.

The titular song Brave Heart announces itself instantly as an anthem. It sets the tone for the EP with its message of growth and resilience.

Her first verse springs forward with the wonderfully rhythmic “I feel that my feelings, they go on and on / I flow it I flow it I put it in a song,” before launching right in to the empowering chorus about the courage and self-actualization that emerge from scars.

“Cause with these scars came a brave heart / even when they hurt I’m kind of grateful / sometimes we gotta get them to remind us / who we are, who we are.”

Brave Heart

Mature in its complexity, the song expertly balances vulnerability with badassery, past pain with present strength. The soaring orchestra coupled with Shan’s powerful voice carry the listener on a wave that makes them feel they too can accomplish anything, at least while listening to this song.

Taking a rawer turn, Hill 60 is a ballad to family that is grounded in place: “nothing can compare with the memories we share / running through the bones of this place.” This song showcases her gift for highly imagistic lyrics— “reach across seas to wrap arms around me”— and high-caliber subjects. Resplendent with poignant lines about sheltering the soul, never letting go, running to loved ones and carrying them in her heart, each verse of Hill 60 is poetry.

Shan’s transcendent song Lean On bathes the listener in gorgeous, golden sound. It is rich with notes like sunshine, her voice a ray of light. Commencing on a note of faith, “I said a prayer today,” the song evokes the feeling of being in a gospel church in the best possible way, the beat lifting you up and making your body sway.

Feeling particularly relevant pandemically-speaking, Lean On speaks of how crucial it is to draw support from those you love during hard times. Her voice dips and rises to achingly high notes, asking when better days will come while still giving thanks because “blessings come every day.” Though stemming from a dark place, the song ultimately brims with hope and joy.  

The EP’s finale Step Up has a resonant, echoing intro. The piano keys complement Shan’s flawless voice, the notes swirling around her words like a dance. In this song the range of her voice is breathtaking, showcasing her prioritization of strong vocals.

Brave Heart is luminous with love. It is like a sunrise, each song a different color, brilliant in its own distinctive way, coalescing into something beautiful and harmonious.  

Piper Anderson

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