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Afar Ways put on display by Yanna Momina

Djiboutian vocalist Yanna Momina introduces Afar Ways with American producer Ian Brennan. This guarded musical tradition showcased in this 8-track album highlights the singer’s shrill voice.

Back in 2018, Ian Brennan set on a journey to Djibouti to meet with the Afar singer Yanna Momina in a stilt-hut on the horn of Africa. Together, they recorded live Afar Ways, an eight-track album which paid tribute to Momina’s musical tradition. In it, her singing ability shines over minimalistic musical backings made-up of an acoustic guitar, handclaps and a calabash to highlight her voice’s uniqueness. “Yanna has one of the most unique voices I’ve ever heard. She flirts with the edge of chaos without losing control of her idiosyncratic phrasing”, stated Brennan.

However, the singer insists this is customarily not done “for show” as Afar music is usually reserved for those belonging to their immediate community, at night, for their own amusement. Momina was discovered while accompanied on a two-string shingle played with nails and a matchbox for maracas, thanks not only to her peculiar voice but also for being one of the rare Afar women who write their own songs.

This experiment made for a one-of-kind riveting experience as the tide crept in, allegedly surrounding the two artists, too engrossed by the music to notice it. The thatch hut’s creaking is apparently audible throughout the album. “Moving at the speed of another culture, what first sounded like a call to prayer, was only conversation. And then we began. Momina was accompanied by a rotating cast of friends who passed around guitars and a calabash. They freely offered up handclaps and background vocals”, recalls Brennan about the experience. The last song, “My Family Won’t Let Me Marry the Man I Love (I Am Forced to Wed My Uncle)” differs from the rest as Momina asked her band to set down their instruments and improvised acappella over an imaginary bass-line.

Afar Ways out August 26th via Glitterbeat records.

Listen to “Honey Bee” in our Songs of the Week playlist.

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