Amaarae Fountain Baby Interscope
In a relatively short space of time, Amaarae, the 28-year-old, Accra-born artist Ama Serwah Genfi, has carved out a lane of her own with her intoxicating blend of Afrobeats, lustrous pop and experimental electronic production, fortified by her instantly recognisable seductively whispered vocals. It’s a formula she perfected right out of the gate on debut album The Angel You Don’t Know, a collagic project that centred lust, self-confidence and pleasure.
But it was the viral, Kali Uchis-featuring TikTok sensation Sad Gurlz Luv Money Remix – currently clocking in with over 336 million streams – that earmarked Amaarae as a superstar in waiting. A string of high-profile sidebars followed, including features on 2022’s celebrated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack and Nigerian rap duo Show Dem Camp’s The Palmwine Express.
Her second full-length, Fountain Baby, affirms Amaarae as an artist with a clear vision; someone bristling with intentions and ideas. She is, it turns out, a double water sign (Cancer sun, Pisces rising, FYI) and the water metaphors flow thick and fast in the album’s publicity texts – she is drawn to the protection and sustenance it offers, but also devilishly thrilled by its potential to destroy and ravage without trace. This elemental reference is seen quite literally in the artwork, in which the singer is drenched in water, head turned from the camera, wearing a diamond crucifix and a white wrap with the words ‘holy water’ emblazoned across.
How this translates into sound is perhaps even simpler: recorded between London, Accra and Los Angeles, the album is in thrall to fluid states both emotional and stylistic. The album opens with the soaring strings of All My Love before seamlessly transitioning into the powerful bassline and stabbing percussion of Angels in Tibet, in which she breathlessly intones: “Tell me who you are/ Is this what you wanted?” Interestingly, the lead singles – the twinkling, horoscope-citing Co-Star (named after the popular astrology app that scalps its users daily) and boundlessly sensual Reckless & Sweet – are outshone by Amaarae’s more ear-grabbing experimentations. Aquamarie Loves Ecstasy, for example, retains Afrobeats’ infectious rhythms but more explicitly nods to the groovesome sounds of African jazz; while Wasted Eyes features a string intro recorded with a 13-piece London orchestra, as well as a Japanese folk song (Battaki by Umeko Ando) reinterpreted by contemporary Japanese vocalists and a kora player. It’s in these left turns where Amaarae’s versatility and intuition really shine through.
Alongside her executive producers – KZDidIt, Kyu Steed and the in-demand Yves Rothman – Amaarae sought to carefully and intentionally anchor her vision within the cultural soundscapes of her upbringing. At times, that sounds like the traditional rhythms and cadences of her native West Africa, but at other moments, it’s seminal pop songs like Britney Spears’ I’m a Slave 4 U and Janet Jackson’s Got ‘Til It’s Gone. Amaarae’s own play on alternative pop radiates from tracks like Princess Going Digital, which is carried by a similarly featherlight, Janet-referencing vocal, and the feisty, aughts hip-hop-indebted Counterfeit, which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Pharrell-produced Britney cut.
Following in her personal heroes’ footsteps, Amaarae has always strived to disrupt and innovate, highlighting the bottomless well of creativity and influence that she finds in her diaspora. Counterfeit, for instance, enlists a Senegalese folk instrumentalist to reimagine surf rock licks. The soft, disco-infused interlude Sociopathic Dance Queen offers up more traditionally pop melodies, as she playfully intones, “purple like the colours of the moon, left you in my garden in the nude”. Sex, Violence, Suicide [Part 2], meanwhile, stands as an outlier in the project – a punk aside so surprising that even describing it here feels like a spoiler. It’s a smart move; a moment of discordance providing a dangerous riptide beneath the artful gloss. But while Fountain Baby is as shapeshifting and forceful as its source of inspiration, it’s Amaarae’s natural, leader-like allure that runs these waters. “Step into your power,” she asserts on Angels in Tibet. “Play your part/ Say no more.”