Lamin Fofana review | Ammar Kalia’s global album of the month

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The Guardian

Across the eight tracks of Lamin Fofana’s latest album trilogy, the Sierra Leonean producer builds on his previous explorations in ambient music. He plays with a languid slowness induced by gradual shifts in tone, rustling field recordings and synth-based melody. The liner notes reveal a hefty ideological underpinning here: Amiri Baraka’s poetry and the pandemic warping our perception of time guide the opening instalment, Ballad Air & Fire; disruption of European colonial notions of art and rationality in Shafts of Sunlight; and the legacies of migration on The Open Boat.

Lamin Fofana: Ballad Air & Fire (cover of first in trilogy) album cover

But even without this guidance, Fofana’s musical choices have a nuanced and emotive impact. The opening, title track of Ballad Air & Fire conjours an ominous sense of anticipation with its half-hour of white noise, thunderous rumblings and creaking whispers of rhythm. Shafts of Sunlight’s title track continues the menacing motif until reverb-laden melody breaks through the noise, like those rays piercing the clouds. Fofana reaches his apex in The Open Boat: melodic rhythm builds like undulating waves on Poseidon (Dub Version)/Sea Is History and edges closer to the dancefloor with the arpeggiated melodies of The Unity Is Submarine. It closes on enveloping synth chords that ring with the hiss of static – a journey back to the liminal noise that opened the trilogy.

In 1978, Brian Eno proposed that ambient music create atmospheres to accompany people in standardised spaces such as airports. Fofana warps this mood music, making his work exist on the cusp of ambience and noise. It is uncomfortable at points – lulling the listener through repetition and then shocking with the interjection of something as simple as a melody or static. This is not airport nor lift music; Fofana’s ambience is not an atmospheric background, but a call to pay attention.

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Also out this month

Trinidadian singer Calypso Rose presents a celebratory album of new material and versions of genre classics on Calypso Rose Forever (Because Music). At 82, Rose has a voice that’s admirably sturdy and full of a lifetime’s warmth. Sound artist Li Yilei’s third album, Secondary Self (LTR Recordings), continues their angular explorations of modular synths, field recordings and strings. It is at turns meditative and unpredictable – finding strange melodies in everything from dial-up modems to printers. Colombian group Meridian Brothers present their take on 70s bootleg salsa with El Grupo Renaciamiento (Ansonia Records). It can stray into pastiche, but maintains an earthy funk nonetheless.

July 15, 2022 at 01:37PM Ammar Kalia

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