Saturday, December 12th, 2020

Azana – Your Love

Next up on Amnesty Week, our continuing transformation into the Sun-El Jukebox…


John Seroff: Durban, South African vocalist (and, not incidentally, a member of the always reliable Sun-El Musician crew) Azana was my most listened-to artist of the year. Her debut LP Ingoma – an exemplar of the beat-driven blend of europop, deep house and Afropop that is Amapiano – dropped in June of this sad pandemic year, right around the time it became clear that COVID-19 wasn’t simply going to go away. Ingoma instantly fluoresced into the album I meant to move out of my “Immediate Listing” pile but never did. I’d be hard pressed to pick my favorite track, but “Your Love” might provide the first-time listener with the best showcase for Azana’s superstar voice. I hear the velvet complexity of Anita Baker, the versatility and joyousness of a young Cyndi Lauper, the fresh lilt of Esperanza Spalding and, crucially, Azana’s own enrapturing sonic signature. “Your Love” was the soundtrack for the summer I wanted to have but that none of us would get: ripe-cherry bright, robust, intimate, easy. We all deserved better but at least there was music like “Your Love” to offer a bridge across those depressing months of sun and loss. I’m thankful.

William John: Azana is in less of a hurry here than on most of the other tracks on her fabulous debut album Ingoma, but romance has the capacity to put any of us into reverie, so the pacing is understandable. The ever reliable Sun-El Musician provides pillowy synths, and once again I’m left wondering how the Western pop scene has thus far failed to harness his considerable talents.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Sun-El’s beat is full of ticking clocks, stuttering drum-machine rhythms that wind and unwind the track’s tension, stretching out far beyond the three and a half minutes it occupies. The lyrics point to that same tension, yearning and worrying over love. Yet Azana plays it cool, slicing against the groove with a supremely chilled-out vocal performance. It’s the kind of play against expectations that has characterized Sun-El Musician’s South Africa house coterie, with a keen awareness of the exact emotional grooves to slot into for a given track.

Katherine St Asaph: Chillout at its most pillowy, the same protective-cocoon mood I get from Mandalay. The track ultimately remains only a mood, but you don’t go into a cocoon for a power nap.

Nortey Dowuona: Lifting synth mazes rise as Azana gently builds them, looking around her clean, well-maintained workshop, and sends out little droplets of drums. The bass tries to shake the room, and soft, gentle echoes slides through the cracks, bringing their children. Azana turns back to her mazes, trying to ignore them, until the echo children begin playing with the droplets, much to Azana’s amusement. But as soon as they see her, they stop, so Azana builds a new ball of droplets. Slightly cautious, the echo children approach the droplets. One brave one holds it, spreads it, and laughs, and soon they all begin playing with them, the older echoes smiling as the children play. Azana feels a little less alone.

Juana Giaimo: “Your Love” relies too heavily on Azana’s voice. The deep melody in the verses and her ephemeral presence in the chorus are really strong, but the rest is too normal — relaxing synths with a heartbeat-like beat — and maybe too polished.

Tim de Reuse: By the laws of late-2010s pop music, a plucky four-chord progression like this must condense into a predictable, attention-focusing drop precisely twice over the course of a four-minute song. Imagine my pleasant surprise when it instead billows into a feathery mass of voices and filtered noise, cluttered enough to blur the line between foreground and background. I keep hearing things I hadn’t noticed when I put it on repeat, which is why I keep putting it on repeat.

Ian Mathers: Those pads in the background make me think of an even slower, softer version of Vistoso Bosses’ “Delirious”, albeit more synth-y than flute-y, and sure enough “Your Love” spends its whole running length feeling like it’s blossoming into something even more lovely than it started as. Neat trick, if you can swing it.

Will Adams: Recently, our own Joshua Minsoo Kim observed the tendency for amapiano albums to stretch across multiple hours and how well suited the genre is to such excess. It alleviated the frustration I expressed on “Emakhaya” and allowed me to view Sun-El’s sameyness as an asset instead of a hindrance. Mood music serves just as essential a function as the in-your-face attention grabbers, and “Your Love” is primed for lazy afternoon drifting. With this mindset, any minor nitpicks — the melody feels static; the scaling chord progression traverses familiar territory — fade away. Why bother focusing on those? Azana delivers her proclamations with calm conviction, and the music swirls like a dream. Just relax and sink in.

Vikram Joseph: The faintest drift of a breeze makes palm fronds shuffle in slow-motion; there’s papaya and thick humidity in the air, and an atomic sun carves a hazy descent over a sluggish river. You can hear birds, distant water, and a small, calm voice singing over elegiac tropical trance, drifting in as if from a dream. And, of course, that is what this is; reality has been temporarily suspended, you are absolutely nowhere, and it’s okay. You won’t remember the song when you wake — you never do — but you will remember what it felt like.

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3 Responses to “Azana – Your Love”

  1. omigod Ian, VISTOSO BOSSES, thanks so much for reminding me about that song! And you’re right, there’s a definite shared vibe!

  2. so messed up that we’ll never hear the shelved Vistoso Bosses debut album.

    this song is really good but i think the true gems on Azana’s album are Bafazi and Egoli. the Claudio x Kenza album from this year is great as well!

  3. Ugh, I didn’t know that album got shelved, that sucks. Glad some of us remember them, though!