Dutch-Ghanaian Multi-Instrumentalist Nana Adjoa’s Debut Album ‘Big Dreaming Ants’

Dutch-Ghanaian multi-instrumentalist Nana Adjoa’s debut album Big Dreaming Ants’, is out today. This week Nana dropped the powerful visual for her lead single, ‘National Song’ which looks looks at cultural identity and neo-nationalism.

Nana Adjoa explains, “Every country has a national song. In the Netherlands, ours is translated from old Dutch. Everybody sings along but they don’t know what it means.” She elaborates, “It made me question the tradition, and why we feel the need to belong to a nation when borders aren’t as clear as they used to be.”

The song is also about searching for one’s own identity – on a personal, cultural and global level. On ‘Throw Stones’, the artist sings about “calming myself down in difficult times. This era of ‘online life’ invites the uglier sides of ourselves to exist outside of just our thoughts. It’s about regrouping and reflecting. You don’t always have to be ‘on’, you are allowed to make time for yourself”.

Written and recorded in her own studio, the album sees Nana handling the majority of the instrumentation herself, using a wide palette of instruments. A process that helped her to develop a multi-layered sound, rich in tonal textures, which is as intimate as expansive.

Talking about the storyline behind the album Nana explains, “Big dreaming, little ants, it’s just who we are. Zooming in on myself and my personal search for identity and then zooming out to see yourself as a very small piece in a bigger part, that as a whole is also on that same search. Themes like heritage, nationalism, internal conflict, change, originality and insecurity come along in that search”.

You can purchase the album on Bandcamp

Check out the video to National Song below, and let us know what you think:

Q&A: Have You Met.. Number

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Where are you from? Describe the kind of creative culture within the city you were raised in?

ALI: I was born and raised in Bishops, Stortford about 30 miles north of London – it was a commuter town with very little cultural output.

Bands played in local pubs or occasionally in the one club there was called Triad – which became the juicy Duck. It was here I saw my first live band when I was about 12; Shakatak, who were just starting and who were from the town.  We followed some local bands around the pubs of the town and local villages as well. There was one record shop in the town which was always full of interesting looking kids; I bought my first ever single in there – No more heroes by The Stranglers. But with not much on offer in the town, me and my brother or mates would take the train into London to see bands.

What made you guys into music, who were the people around you who influenced you?

ALI:  My older brother Jez was a big influence in getting me into music. He had a knowledge which I didn’t have and a growing record collection which I started to listen to. A mate of mine called Chris was into punk and new wave and would come round to play me new singles he had bought – that gave me the confidence to go and buy my own. I loved it.

I learnt guitar as a kid but hated it – I ran away from home to avoid a lesson once. Then at school I was picked out to learn double bass because I was tall and because I had a grounding of guitar. Free music lessons then. So I learnt classical double bass but soon started learning bass lines from records and playing along. My bass teacher was great – Mr Jobson –  my parents tried to match make him with my auntie once. It didn’t work out.

We had music in the house a lot but also at Church and my first experience playing with a band came with a group who played choruses and modern hymns regularly at the Sunday services.

Double bass - Big Smoke Studioa

Are there any producers/artists you work with really well, what makes your relationship work?

RICH:  Working with Dean Thatcher, Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns (The Aloof) , David Holmes and Andrew Weatherall in the 90s had a huge influence on me and how I developed as a musician and producer.

We have worked with many great sound engineers over the years. In the 90s..Tim Holmes (Death in Vegas), Luke Gordon (Spacer), Hugo Nicholson and more recently Shuta Shinoda at Hackney Road studios.

In terms of Number it has been great working with Dan Carney (Astronauts) and Louisa and Heloise from Landshapes, Byron Wallen and John Metcalf…inspiring.

Most importantly for me is having worked with Ali since 1993. he is a really creative musician, patient and open minded. As a rhythm section we work really well together and seem to have our own way of immediately understanding what the other person means. It doesn’t always work but as a musician you learn by making mistakes. Often we hear things differently to the other person that that is often when the really inspired music comes from.

What were your early experiences in music, did you start with playing instruments?

ALI: I learnt guitar from an early age and then had double bass lessons and was part of a youth orchestra for a brief moment. There was music in my home and everyone in the family learnt how to play the piano except me…..I still can’t play it. I picked up the electric bass and played in school performances for a while and then at University I was in various bands playing Velvets and Bowie like stuff. I eventually chose P funk as my thing with the Freakin Habit Forms

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What equipment did you use to produce your forthcoming album? 

ALI: We had wanted to try new sources for writing music together, and Number allowed us to experiment with sound and process again. The foundations for most tunes were from the Volca Beats and electric bass put through various fx. At my studio I tended to record the acoustic elements of the sound like the gato drum and xylophones etc. using a Protools set up with Neve preamps.

The Moog Taurus pedals and Casio keyboards were also well thumbed. Most of the live drums and some of the bass was recorded in an old industrial incinerator in west London; that gave the sound a particular flavour. Otherwise, a fair amount came from working post-production with Shuta Shinoda in his Hackney Road Studios. He uses some great analogue compressors and puts everything through a 2 inch tape machine and we get to use his old Eventide as well…..

Shuta rack 1

 

Are you signed to a label, if so what’s your relationship like, if not, has that been out of choice?

RICH: We are signed to Sunday Best Recordings, Sarah Bolshi and Stan Watson have done a great job for us, they have been very understanding of our high expectations and are really creative with their limited budget. It is very hard for Independent labels these days, especially when trying to promote a new act.

How have you changed your approach from your previous project to your forthcoming album?

ALI: Number is about Rich and myself plus friends who we have got involved as vocalists or instrumentalists. Dan, Heloise and Luisa gave a lot of themselves and lifted the tracks enormously. John created a beautiful patchwork of his strings and Byron came up with some suitably skewed trumpet for us. We have had to adopt a different approach in that we haven’t been able to work in the same physical space that much, and this, together with financial restrictions has definitely had an impact on the shape of the music.

The sound and focus of the album has shifted as we’ve written and recorded it – its cool to have that going on. I’ve enjoyed playing a lot of other instrumentation on it and feeling in the right mindset to try vocal ideas without fear of being laughed at – I’m over that. Lyrics also allow for another layer of meaning to the music for me.

Rich and I first started recording disco and hip hop drums and bass ideas onto a simple tape recorder in 1993. That spirit of putting things together in a slightly ad hoc way and revelling in the simplicity and experimentation of it has returned to us on this album I would say.

Have a listen to their new album, and purchase through bandcamp:

 

 

First Thoughts: Azekel – Youth

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‘Youth’ marks the third chapter of Azekel’s debut album release. It builds on the previous titled; ‘Mental health’, which recognised the issues around depression, self-doubt and anxiety, whilst also, expressing how he came to understand it and manage it through music. However, his latest chapter ‘Youth’, was described by Azekel to be ‘based on present age and living out my youth whilst having responsibilities’.

First grabbing my attention with his captivating, heartfelt performance at Jazz Café earlier in April, as the secret headliner for Kojey Radical debut “Endless Presents…” event. I was impressed by his ease to reach high notes, and to bring them back down to speaking level quite effortlessly, and with his slightly sultry voice telling his story so well, he didn’t need to bring much stage presence. Listening to Youth a few weeks back, seemed to relive that live performance.

Video courtesy of AZEKEL

Azekel’s story continues with the thrilling track; ‘Wetty Betty’, which after a swirling, dreamy slowed down introduction is accompanied by an enthralling funk bassline, reminiscent of old school 70s funk tracks. The breakdown to the track makes the hook very memorable, as the addition of gentle piano chords, along to soft, slightly harmonised vocals provided a particularly poignant recurring feature which is not easy to forget.

‘Taxi Man’ continues the chapter at a slightly quicker, more rhythmic, upbeat pace to the last. Its difficult not to imagine riding in taxi whilst listening to this track (as cliché as it sounds), but Azekel’s lyrics help to create that imagery, whilst also seemingly reminiscing his youth days. Closing with track ‘Good Wine’, Azekel seems to leave an interesting message for listeners as well as himself. As he expresses the mistakes he’s made in his youth which have affected him now, but he reiterates the need to not allow those mistakes to ruin the present. An excellent development of Azekel’s on-going journey, one in which I’m excited to hear more of.

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