Mami Wata is the debut recording of the duo of Andie Brown, the ex-Cindytalk bassist now working primarily with glass and electronics, and ‘vocal experimentalist’ Sharon Gal, who also plays electronics and recordings. It’s the latest CD-R release on French micro-label Wild Silence.
It opens with the sound of breaking surf, directly evoking the ocean home of the true Mami Wata, water spirit of African mythology – anthropomorphic, lustful and materialistic, said sometimes to abduct swimmers to a watery paradise, and occasionally to return them to land with a new spiritual understanding. Mami Wata worship often takes the form of intense, trance-inducing dancing accompanied by African guitars or harmonicas. Not here though. Gal and Brown offer up dark ambience.
An eerie screeching rides the breakers that roar softly to the accompaniment of rustling wind chimes, both surf and those vocalisations, which modulate to throatier exhalations, occasionally merging with coarse analogue electronics to complete the haunted and desolate shoreline air of “Icefire”, the first of the album’s four cuts.
“Two” is its shortest: prettily naive metallophonic chimes supplanted by muted, obfusc incantations swamped by unsteady machine buzz’n’hum.
I suppose album highlight “After Callas” (12:46) acknowledges an inspiration. Galas might seem more appropriate, but Gal’s vocalisations have a characteristic subtlety that Diamanda Galas has little use for. In any case, at length her initially operatic vocal traces are almost entirely subsumed, only emerging occasionally as shapeless phantasmal song within a nuanced mesh of continuous low humming sounds and spin-drift melodic traces.
It’s rarely clear which elements of the closely textured Mami Wata soundworldmight be traced to glass rather than electronics, so it’s maybe surprising to witness. Here’s the video for an excerpt from “After Callas”:
The concluding and, at 16:10 the album’s longest cut, “Fata Morgana” presents both a sonic mirror to the titular vision-distorting mirage and an apposite, oblique nod to Arthurian sorceress Morgan le Fay. It’s the album’s most superficially orthodox ambient piece, taking time to unfold. Mostly free of overt vocalisations, referential field recordings or other foley sounds, it’s focused purely on subtle differences in shade and colouration but billowing, swelling outwards with gaseous luminosity.
Mami Wata is a truly immersive album. Its two opening tracks snag the ear with vivid foley and quasi-theatrical sonic curiosities ahead of the two longer and more subtly involving concluding pieces. They’re all strong stand-alone tracks, but it’s a wholly involving sequence.
Andie Brown – glass, electronics; Sharon Gal – voice, electronics, recordings.
Buy Mami Wata from Wild Silence Bandcamp.