Namakau Star canvasses existential themes on her way to soft ‘Landing’ [Pulse EP Review]

She writes like a rapper, but delivers like a core member of the famed ‘whisper girls.’

Namakau Star - Landing. (Paradise)

African music is going into a phase, where different non-pop styles can find a niche and thrive. At the forefront of that is R&B queens, Trap/Drill boys and Alternative artists. In West Africa, we have seen Ayra Starr, Tems, Fave, Gyakie, Kold, Somadina and more emerge over the past few years. We have also seen acts like Ipeleng, Elaine, Rowlene and more emerge in South Africa.

Some parallels tie them together: syrupy, searing vocals, laced with range modulations and American R&B vocal manipulations. But individually, they are different. While Fave leans towards contralto, Ayra Starr is a soprano. In South Africa, another name has emerged: Namakau Star.

Vocally, the Cape Town-bred singer presents as an American-trained offspring of the post-Brandy school of R&B. But her music is a bridge between Midwestern American school of R&B, mostly of African-American origin and Southern American R&B instrumentation, with heavy Hip-Hop-influenced percussion.

Stylistically, she’s like Elaine, with Shekinah’s beat choices. But she’s also a bridge between Ravyn Lenae and Rimon, with a twist of Noname’s sung-rap style on ‘2088,’ ‘Rewind’ and ‘Seazn Love.’

On her eclectic debut EP, Landing, Star is a rotunda of topical, sonic and stylistic range, submerged in an ocean of poetic, thought-provoking music, laced with ounces of symbolisms and metaphors. She writes like a rapper, but delivers like a core member of the famed ‘whisper girls.’

As its title suggests, ‘Landing’ feels like a diaristic, humbling tale of love, expressed through a constant canvassing of existential topics and existential questions, encapsulated by the epilogue on ‘Tomorrow,’ often spoken in soliloquy, as she navigates lost love and maturity. Significantly, the album is expressed through a subtly pessimistic tone.

Even when ‘Rewind’ seems happy as Starr longs for a second chance at lost love after episodes of ruinous escapism, it still ends in uncertainty. ‘Surrender’ then flirts with happiness in its bid to nudge toward action, but the morose uncertainty its ending is unmissable as Star sings, “I’m at the edge of the mountain top/I’m at the edge of the water falls…”

And sometimes, it feels like Star sings at a woman with admiration from a masculine perspective. ‘Breathe’ is peaceful, because it urges. Not essentially because the character across the EP eventually finds a succor, but because it looks into the future with optimism after she was finally able to ‘Breathe.’

Perhaps that’s the ‘Landing,’ the representation of peace after episodes of emotional upheaval and uncertainty. Star sings, “Breathing it in the oxygen, can you feel your heart again/Can you feel the stars again, I’m human…”

It’s definitely a shift from the opening line of the EP, “If tomorrow never comes.” Which is one hell of an assumption.

‘Landing’ is one of the finest African projects of 2022 so far.

Ratings: /10

• 0-1.9: Flop

• 2.0-3.9: Near fall

• 4.0-5.9: Average

• 6.0-7.9: Victory

• 8.0-10: Champion

Pulse Rating: /10

Album Sequencing: 1.6/2

Themes and Delivery: 1.8/2

Production: 1.9/2

Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.8/2

Execution: 1.7/2

Total:

8.8 - Champion

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