Moore Music – Mary Akpa’s “Nnoo”
It’s hard to get excited about things in the dead of winter sometimes, the dark days and doldrums of staying close to home and constant preoccupation with staying warm can just sort of naturally hamper your enjoyment of things, but there’s nothing like a really good record to lift your spirits and bring sunny vibes back into your life. Even if those good vibes are also laced with harsh truths and straight talk about heavy but important topics in our world today. Somehow, singer Mary Akpa has created an album that is at once tremendously soothing and also a call for racial understanding.
Mary Akpa is Brooklyn based artist, raised in California, and born in Nigeria. The name of her new album is Nnoo – Spelled N N O O, which in the Igbo language of Nigeria means Welcome. Akpa is not only an accomplished vocalist but a scholar of music as well with a degree in ethnomusicology, the study of music across cultures. Her influences range from fellow west African artist Angelique Kidjo to Black artists spanning the decades from Sam Cooke to D’Angelo, and even Radiohead. And while all of those sounds are present in their own way in her music, they don’t quite make up her sound that throws genre out the window. The sum of the parts is much greater.
Her voice is as rich and buttery smooth as the musical arrangements to her songs. West African rhythms are present, but also mid-tempo grooves and funky bass and guitar. It’s got almost a sort of downtempo, trip hop feel to it in parts but also a more exploratory jazz quality at others, with instruments going on wild solos out of nowhere. Specifically the bass player is incredible, going all over the fretless neck on what has to be 6 strings, I can hear that just from the playing. But its good that those odysseys never get in the way of the lyrics, as those remain the central focus of the album
Black Body is a response to those who refuse to see issues of racism and inequality from the perspective of those calling it out. The final track I Promise is an amazing one, that both laments that the struggles and injustices Black people face in this country are still having to be dealt with today, but ends up in a triumphant rallying cry for change and hope.
Nnoo overall is short, a brisk 7 tracks with an intro, but it plays out like a perfectly flowing cinematic experience for the ears. To be perfectly honest I haven’t spent a whole lot of time checking out new releases this year so far, still trying to get caught up on last year, but this is far and away my favorite of 2022 so far.