Soul Music’s Newest Star: Jalen Ngonda

Album cover credit to Genius.

Soul music is ingrained in Jalen Ngonda’s blood. Born and raised in Washington D.C. —home to soul legends Marvin Gaye and Duke Ellington— Ngonda lived in a home where Gaye’s raspy tone played like white noise throughout the rooms of his house. 

On Ngonda’s debut LP, “Come Around and Love Me,” it’s clear to see that the 28-year-old had some inspiration. His voice pays homage to the ones who came before him, yet his style, bravado and mere vibe screams new school soul. 

He tips his cap to the golden age of doo-wops and R&B, while opening new doors the soul community hadn’t been given access to yet. From toe-curling falsettos, to the smooth hum behind a jazz beat, Ngonda makes this project look like a cakewalk.

Ngonda’s vocal range is otherworldly, and he showcases it from the get-go. “If You Don’t Want My Love” and “Lost” are walks in the park for Ngonda. He’s showing off and knows just how talented he is. 

Close your eyes and there’s moments where you’ll hear the raspy Gaye, with touches of soul music juggernaut Etta James on the side. This just shows the brilliance of Ngonda, who’s able to mimic the tones of the “Queen of Soul.”

The first half of the 33-minute album is a cry out to a runaway lover of Ngonda’s. He begs for this lover to come back and love him, croons out about how lost he is and shouts that all he ever wanted was love. It’s a cold, heartless world and the fire in Ngonda’s voice juxtaposes the ice in his heart. 

Ngonda begs this lover not to go and give this love away to someone else. The lyrics hit deep, and the long falsettos allow them to sit even longer with the listener. 

Scan to listen to “Come Around and Love Me” on Spotify.

The project takes a turn after Ngonda’s final cry in “Just Like You Used To.” The D.C. native fights with the hurt but comes to terms with this rejection by the end of the song as he transitions into “What A Difference She Made.”

“Hold me, kiss me, just like you used to,” he starts on the duo of songs. 

Finishing “Just Like You Used To” with: “Oh I need it so much / ‘Til I’m just alone, baby.”

On “What A Difference She Made,” we see a shift in Ngonda. He’s found someone else, a more faithful woman perhaps. 

“She came to me and she gave me love / What a difference she made,” Ngonda softly sings. It’s a jazzy tune with a soulful glaze on top, and the perfect way to turn the somber album into a love story.

“So Glad I Found You,” the third to last song on the project, brings the story full circle. Ngonda lets his audience in on a heartbreaking failed romance, but thankfully we are introduced to a much happier one.

“I’ve got to say, I’m so glad I found you,” Ngonda harmonizes. A smile is brought to my face, and for two reasons; the song is one of the more touching ones on the album when you consider what Ngonda trials through earlier in the album, but also it’s hard not to smile when Ngonda’s voice graces my ears. 

This is the type of album, and Ngonda is the type of singer, who makes you almost mad at the entire situation. I was sitting there waiting for him to mess up, for a song to just not sound that soulful, or a tune to get redundant. 

Without a doubt, Ngonda knocks “Come Around and Love Me” out of the park. It’s one of the few flawless albums I’ve ever heard. This project has no holes in it, from the lyrics, to the quality of Ngonda’s voice, to the background instrumentals, this project fires on all cylinders.

Ngonda’s style is an obvious salute to his predecessors Gaye and Ellington, and as a fan of soul music I have to salute to Ngonda. For a debut album, Ngonda carried himself with a confidence and veteran approach I haven’t seen from a newer artist in the past. 

D.C. breeds soulful talent, and Ngonda is just the most recent artist in a long list of DMV-area musical geniuses to hit the ground running. “Come Around and Love Me” is late night drive music, dance in the kitchen with your soulmate music, and Southern jazz club music. 

Ladies and gentlemen, Jalen Ngonda is the next best thing in the soul music industry. You are witnessing greatness, and I’d enjoy it while it lasts.