The genre-defying artist, raised between Accra and Atlanta, uses her cosmopolitan upbringing and appreciation of Kelis to confront limited conceptions of femininity.
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You can no longer pigeonhole anybody,”You can’t pigeonhole anyone anymore,” “When old cultures die out, things inevitably change,” says the 26-year-old, explaining the transition taking place in West Africa, epitomized by the quirky Alté style of music that has become a non-conformist cultural movement.
One of the pioneers is Amaarae, and her debut album, The Angel You Don’t Recognize, is a classic. It disregards no genre, sound or cadence, euphoric in its risk-taking: Amaarae’s whispery vocals bounce between Celine’s Southern hip-hop rhythms and dance across the lilting soundscape produced by 3AM by Rvdical the Boy. It’s much more expansive than African pop’s Western interpretation, subsumed under the catch-all word Afrobeats, from which Amaarae distanced herself easily.
She described her debut EP, Passionfruit Summers of 2017, as Afro-fusion, but she considers the categorization of music into genres obsolete, like many artists of her age. “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t even put a label on my music,” she says. My story is told in many different, colorful ways. “My story is told in many different, colorful ways. ”
“In her teenage years in the U.S., she sees the beginning of her “colorful” story, sitting wide-eyed in front of her aunt’s TV: “The first thing we did was turn it on and watch music videos when we got there.” She recalls vividly seeing Kelis in the video for Young Fresh N ‘New, “from the mohawk to the mad monster truck she was driving.
I just enjoyed it.
It made me realize that there are so many different ways of expressing yourself and that all ways are true. You don’t have to be just one kind of person. She’s disappointed that Africa’s dynamism is not catching up with the rest of the world – the narrow viewpoint undermines the careers of West African artists who don’t suit preconceived stereotypes. She says of the international music industry, “They haven’t found a way to subdivide African music genres,” They don’t really give artists the chance to evolve internationally.”They don’t really give artists the opportunity to develop globally.” The Angel You Don’t Know is dedicated to those who do not match the narrow definition of normalcy in society, and the lyricism of Amaarae also questions gender views in West Africa, opening the track Fancy with a dominant exclamation, “I like it when you call me Zaddy / Don’t you want to sit in my big fat Caddy?” Amaarae says of the project, “It’s about emancipation, femininity and sexuality.”
It’s about audacity.
Tracks like Trust Fund Baby and Dazed and Exploited in Beverly Hills are clearly hedonistic, money-grubbing and sexually charged. It portrays the black woman as a deity, as a god! “I’m just reflecting the quintessential African women’s thoughts!” she says with a giggle. Her album reflects her musical journey’s development. “One of the biggest mental barriers I overcame was letting people into my process and my creative space,” she says. “I always thought that if you’re a true artist, all your music, words and expressions have to come from you.” Working on this project made her appreciate the art of collaboration. “This record is so much more than just my expression, it’s also the faith that others have instilled in me creatively.”The Angel You Don’t Know”is about self-belief,”is about self-belief. The Angel You Don’t Know is out in Platoon right now.