REVIEW: Nana Adjoa – Big Dreaming Ants

If you were asked to name a style of music from the Netherlands, I imagine you’d come up with something like “Dutch prog”, “Dutch pop” or “Dutch trance”. Dutch singer songwriter is unlikely to come to mind. And sensitive, half-Ghanaian, LGBT, Dutch singer songwriter at that. You’ll know there is more to the Netherlands than cheese, clogs and ‘coffee shops’. You should also know that in Nana Adjoa there’s much more to this nation’s music than Focus, Vengaboys and Tiësto.

And with ‘She’s Stronger’, the first song I heard from this album, it’s clear very quickly that Nana Adjoa has more than just something different to offer.

You’d be forgiven for letting much of the rest of the album wash over you, pleasantly but unremarkably, on a first listen. On a second or third, you’ll instead feel almost, but not maliciously, misled by this pleasantness. There’s much more depth, sadness and cutting observation in the lyrics than the music would at first lead you to believe. Nana has got some stuff to say.

On album opener, and highlight, ‘National Song’ she takes aim at small minded nationalism (you know the ones, we’ve all seen them in the comments section) and white privilege :

“You know how to barricade your classroom doors…you know your opinions and how to sell them…you know all the words to your national song”.

“You don’t know the value of the cards you’ve been dealt”

Nana tackles sexuality too, on a deeply personal level. ‘Love and Death’ is a desperately sad story:

“On her wedding day, she gave me a kiss, with tears in her eyes, it was the kiss of death”

The music is similarly more complex than you would first notice too. She’s no stranger to an unusual time signature. And even when it seems like a straightforward 4/4 or 12/8 she’ll throw in some polyrhythms, three beats against four or the other way around, just to catch you out. An inheritance from her Ghanaian roots?

Tracks like ‘Cardboard Castle’ capture a classic sound, similar to what you’ll hear on Michael Kiwanuka’s Kiwanuka. Elsewhere, Zero 7 fans will feel right at home with tracks like ‘In Lesser Light Pollution’ and ‘No Room’.

I’ve got this far without mentioning her voice. It’s strong and clear, yet gentle and vulnerable. Again quietly remarkable. There’s no slap in the face wow moment, but the more you listen the more it wins you over. It’s a shame when, on occasions, that voice gets lost in the mix, swamped by reverb and overdubbing. It’s particularly strong therefore in the verses and quieter moments. Like a true instrument, the controlled delicacy is not an easy skill to master.

There’s beauty in the sound of this new artist finding her feet and forming her work into an album for the first time. A bassist by training but not limitation, she played and recorded all the instruments in her own studio. She’s clearly very talented and has produced an impressive debut. It’s the start of an exciting journey for Nana at a difficult time to be releasing music. My fingers are crossed that she can find new fans to share this journey with. I hope I’ve done enough to convince you to become one too.

Words by James Spearing

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