Sitali follows in the tradition of visionaries whose music is at once explosive, provocative, emotional, and soaring under its own banner. It would be easy to dub his work “folk-rock” – and him a “singer-songwriter” – for the sake of the argument, but with a repertoire of sublime tracks that send jolts through everything from Delta blues to country to funk to soul to punk rock, it wouldn’t do him justice. A mighty lyricist and a seasoned performer, he fiercely resides in a category all his own, evoking the legends that rocked, crooned, and strummed their way into his inimitable aesthetic.
It’s only fitting that Sitali was born in the Global Village – New York, New York – as his music and backstory reflect the rush and the riches of a journey across continents. Sitali’s parents were Zambian diplomats to the United Nations who, after their stint in Gotham, moved the family to Cairo, Egypt. It was there that, starting at age seven, he began learning the guitar, spurred on by the work of such artists as Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash.
After Cairo came Russia, and Sitali split his time between living with his family in Moscow and going to school in the United Kingdom. The move endowed Sitali with a host of new influences – namely Led Zeppelin, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix – who prompted his undying affair with the electric guitar.
Milestones that for most occur in adulthood came for Sitali in adolescence: He went on his first tour at 13 as a Zambian representative for the UNICEF-sponsored International Youth Festival; and at 14 he had his first recording session, performing with father and son Ethan and Glynn Johns, producers of Led Zeppelin, The Who, Ray La Montagne, and Kings of Leon.
Sitali moved back to the United States after completing high school and touched down in Washington, DC, where he immediately started playing the club scene, meeting key players such as Federico Gonzalez Peña, keyboardist for Marcus Miller; Spyro Gyra’s Scott Ambush; songstress/powerhouse Meshell Ndegeocello; and Juju House, drummer for the likes of Grace Jones, Chuck Brown, Arrested Development, and others.
During this prolific period, he also spent some time in New York, playing gigs at the Blue Note Jazz Club with several acclaimed musicians; and on the West Coast, writing, recording, and performing. While in Seattle, he reconnected with Juju House who hired him for a writing project for singer Roberta Flack, for whom Juju was drumming at the time.
When Sitali landed back in DC, he recorded and released his debut album, the heavily Delta blues-flavored I Am a Tree. Released in 2005, it features Juju on drums; Scott Ambush on bass; and the late Ben Andrews, legendary Delta blues singer and guitarist, who performs a special acoustic track on the record called “Black Star Revisited”.
For his 2008 album, Aluta Continua, Sitali linked up with engineer/producer/collaborator Frank Marchand, who has recorded and mixed for a host of pivotal artists – Nils Lofgren, Bob Mould of Husker Du, and The Decemberists, to name a few. Though as potent in lyrics and melody as I Am a Tree, Aluta Continua captures rock and blues on a much rawer scale and features Jean-Francis Varre on bass and John Lane on drums.
After completing his second album, Sitali took some time away from production and spent a year and a half touring with DC-based DJ collective Thievery Corporation, performing to large crowds across the U.S. The tour introduced Sitali to huge audiences, as it made stops at such festivals as Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, Coachella, and many others.
Sitali is now back in the studio once more, again collaborating with Frank Marchand, for his new album, Golden One. This project is a soulful and full-bodied bomb of tones and genres, featuring a horn section; string section Machines on Vacation (fronted by Ethan Balis); and the talents of Dr. Huda Asfour, master of the Palestinian oud and kanoun. Thievery Corporation engineer Giamma Conti is also lending his expertise to the project, as is Juju House, who appears on drums. The album will be released in 2016.