Lamin Fofana review – ambient album trilogy is an encouraging call for attention | music

ONEcrossing the eight tracks in Lamin Fofana’s latest album trilogy, the Sierra Leonean producer builds on his previous explorations in ambient music. He plays with a dull slowness evoked by gradual shifts in tone, rattling field recordings and synth-based melody. The liner notes reveal a solid ideological underpinning here: Amiri Baraka’s poetry and the pandemic that distorts our perception of time control the opening part, Ballad Air & Fire; disruption of European colonial notions of art and rationality in the Shafts of Sunlight; and the legacy of migration on The Open Boat.

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

But even without this guidance, Fofana’s musical choices have a nuanced and emotional effect. The opening of the title track of Ballad Air & Fire evokes an ominous sense of anticipation with its half-hour white noise, thunderous rumble and creaking whisper of rhythm. Shafts of Sunlight’s title track continues the menacing motif until reverberating melody breaks through the noise like the rays piercing the clouds. Fofana reaches its climax in The Open Boat: melodic rhythm is built like billowing waves on Poseidon (Dub Version) / Sea Is History and edges closer to the dance floor with the arpeggiated melodies from The Unity Is Submarine. It closes on enveloping synth chords ringing with the hiss of static – a journey back to the liminal noise that opened the trilogy.

In 1978, Brian Eno suggested that ambient music creates atmospheres to accompany people in standardized spaces such as airports. Fofana distorts this mood music and makes his work exist on the border of mood and noise. It’s uncomfortable at times – lulling the listener through repetitions and then shocking with the insertion of something as simple as a melody or static. This is not airport or elevator music; Fofana’s atmosphere is not an atmospheric background, but a call for attention.

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Also out this month

Trinidadian singer Calypso Rose presents a festive album with new material and versions of genre classics on Calypso Rose Forever (Because Music). At 82 years old, Rose has a voice that is admirably robust and full of a warmth of life. Sound artist Li Yilei‘s third album, Secondary Self (LTR Recordings), continues their angular explorations of modular synths, field recordings and strings. It is sometimes meditative and unpredictable – to find strange melodies in everything from modems to calls to printers. Colombian group Meridian Brothers present their bid for 70s bootleg salsa with El Grupo Renaciamiento (Ansonia Records). It may stray into pastiche, but nevertheless retains a down-to-earth funk.

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