Photo: Mathilde Agius
“I want to talk about class…I want to talk about money, power structures, family, men, so many things.”
Concordia; the Roman goddess of harmony, and the name of Lafawndah’s own label on which she will release her debut album, Ancestor Boy. Fitting, as the Egyptian-Iranian artist has an interest in mythology (album cut ‘Storm Chaser’ is an ode to the goddess of good chaos), and an astute ear for harmonies both soft and bracing. “I can retain power in softness,” Lafawndah says gently as we chat on the phone on a sunlit afternoon.
Ancestor Boy is Lafawndah’s first solo material since 2016’s Tan EP. In the interim, she’s come to feel more at ease with her skills, experimenting with compositional structures and allowing herself to grow vocally. “I’m putting a big chunk of myself out into the world,” she says of the release.
As she prepares to bare all with an album that demands the listener to look inwards as well as forwards, Lafawndah is busy rehearsing a commissioned show at the Barbican Centre with Midori Takada, scoring fashion week shows, producing for other artists, creating video, creating imagery, and investing in the necessity for Ancestor Boy to speak to the greatest possible audience.
Lafawndah’s musical blueprint is influenced by time in London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles and Mexico City. Her wide-reaching perspective manifests itself as a melting pot of styles and sounds, sitting somewhere between pop, club music and cinematic composition. Ancestor Boy is driven by percussive foundations: “The drums always come first,” Lafawndah explains. “The rhythms connect with the most physical part of our brain, being in activation”.
She thinks of Ancestor Boy as music for adventure, for exploring, for moving. Percussion is her “ally to activate”. Crashing drums heighten a sense of urgency and defiance that prevails throughout the record. “I want to talk about class,” she says. “I want to talk about money, power structures, family, men, so many things.” Lafawndah is asking questions and demanding answers, and Ancestor Boy sees her unfold, speaking not of herself but of a wider “us”.
Halfway through the album, Lafawndah covers ‘Vous et Nous’, originally performed in 1977 by Brigitte Fontaine and Areski Belkacem. Covers are not commonplace, as often she doesn’t recognise herself in the music, but ‘Vous et Nous’ appealed for its childlike quality and its poetry. “It demands clarity, intimacy, playfulness, a relationship,” Lafawndah says of the track, explaining that in English we don’t have a plural version of “you” in the same way French has “vous”. That collective voice is pertinent to Ancestor Boy as Lafawndah presents different personalities, different narrators, and different points of view across the record.
“I don’t like comfort…I like dynamism…”
Take the decisive stance of ‘Daddy’, in which Lafawndah considers heritage and cleansing yourself of transgenerational trauma, “the chip on your shoulder will not be mine,” she sings. Or the protective voice of ‘Substancia’, a track which filled Lafawndah with an unexpected fear and fury when she first sang it aloud. The word substancia means the power to influence or the power to be groundbreaking.
On the album, ‘Substancia’ is a seismic call to arms: “I want you to use ‘Substancia’ as a tool whenever you feel threatened,” she says of the lyrics (“I’m your rival, I’ve got you encircled”), “don’t forget that you can fuck them up, and don’t think that you’re alone, because you’re not.” Then there’s ‘I’m an Island’, an instrumental in the latter stages of the album which presents a feeling of not belonging. It’s Lafawndah’s desire to build her own map, to feel settled and to draw her own geology.
In the past, Lafawndah has said that singing is not comfortable, it’s like taking a risk. But risk is something she craves when creating. “I don’t like comfort,” she says. “I like dynamism, music that conveys contradictory feelings or tension.” Having always been resistant to adhering to western ideals around vocals – “that slickness, those satin, honey-type voices that have been rewarded” – Lafawndah hears beauty in the friction of voices like Nina Simone’s.
As a result, to date she’s resisted liberating her own voice for fear it would be “too pretty”. Ancestor Boy sees Lafawndah letting go of that fear, instead embracing her voice to the fullest. “I’m learning how to get over myself,” she admits. “It’s a lifelong journey.” Ancestor Boy is Lafawndah breaking new ground, an experiment in every sense of the word, driven by just the right amount of discomfort, and just the right amount of risk.
Ancestor Boy is released March 22nd via Concordia.
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See Substancia, a short film by Lafawndah, here: