Singer-songwriters are often burdened by the age-old cliches. Four chord melodies. Lamenting lyrics about love or nature. It’s amazing that after nearly a century of blues, rock, pop, hip-hop – and everything in between – that anything exciting can emerge from one artist and their guitar. But, alas – I divulge. On her debut LP, Dutch-Ghanian artist Nana Adjoa has proven that acoustic music can still hold strong in today’s continually expanding market.
Whether this is through the album’s lead single ‘National Song’ – an explorative analysis neo-nationalist rhetoric – or more understated numbers like ‘Throw Stones’ which is concerned with restraint and mindfulness during difficult situations, Adjoa is vocal without ever seeming preachy or cliche. Her lyrics stand alone because of their truthfulness.
It’s that finely tuned balance between intimacy and expression that makes Big Dreaming Ants an exciting project. Sonically it’s an open book of ideas and its influences creep to the surface in a way that never feels derivative. Even the most fleeting listeners can hear the poetic lyricism of Leonard Cohen, jazz-inspired tempos of Stevie Wonder or even the electronic instrumentals of Radiohead.
All these allusions exist simultaneously, which is perhaps telling of Adjoa’s musical training (an alumna mater of the reputable Amsterdam Conservatory, where she studied Jazz).
But the seeds of Adjoa’s musicality were sown much earlier than her time at university. The singer-songwriter has been in bands throughout her life, where she has played bass, and acted as the glue that kept each component together. Her practical experience is carried through onto her solo debut, where she handled much of the instrumentation herself.
While many artists might bend under the pressure of this responsibility, Adjoa excels. Tracks often begin with a single vocal, from which the singer layers with a trickling drum beat, or plucking guitar, to develop an almost operatic sense of progression.
In an album that is all about the human experience, Adjoa’s voice is the unifying element that draws together her diverse sonic palette; the quaint nature of her vocals iterate to the universality of our experience. This particularly resonates on those more lyrical tracks – ‘Every Song’ and the closer ‘I Want to Change’ – which use repeated refrains to refine their message. This formal choice would often appear simplistic but, again, Adjoa’s vocal delivery gives these tracks a unique sense of charm and insight. An artist’s journey toward self-discovery is a mosaic process. It requires a serious piecing together of the otherwise fragmented and abstract segments that make up their identity. Big Dreaming Ants proves that Nana Adjoa is an artist well on that journey to refining a unique sound. By drawing on individual experiences, she illuminates the larger topics in hand. The end product is as personal as it is powerful.
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Listen to Nana Adjoa on Spotify and Apple Music. Pick up a copy of our latest magazine featuring Declan McKenna, L.A. Witch, Shame, Sinead O’Brien and more HERE.