This album documents the development and emergence of a pretty unique talent
After last month’s thrilling Fever Ray album Radical Romantics, the theme of romance lingers in the air as Desire Marea releases his second solo album, On the Romance of Being. Marea advances on the electronic pop sounds of his debut album Desire with a 13-piece band that has helped him realise sophisticated layers of sound that blend free jazz, traditional tribal influence, rock and swirling orchestral swells to create a richly textured sound across this album. There is no doubt that Marea has worked with some seriously talented players to achieve this wild blend of sound.
The moody, dramatic vibe of this album is a huge departure from the dancefloor grind, pop hooks and playful attitude of songs like Tavern Kween and Do You Think I’m Horny? that initially brought Marea to our attention. It’s the lingering seductive moods and unashamedly aggressive eroticism and sexuality that link all of Marea’s work. Instead of getting down and dirty in the club as he usually would, this album connects carnal impulse with transformative spiritual experience. This development in his music seems consistent with his recent training as a traditional Nguni spiritual healer who uses traditional music and rhythmic percussion to enter into a trance-like state to invoke the spirits residing in him. Marea affirms the power of music to heal and transform those who participate in the ritual of this album. When he recites the mantra ‘I want to see you levitate’ in the most joyous tones on the album's opener Ezulwini, Marea wants to lift us out of the 'here and now' and elevate us to a more beautiful place.
The wild jazz sprawl of Be Free is epic in scope as it bounces between intense percussion to messy horns and sweeping strings. It's easy to get lost in this mass of sound as Marea sings about a same-sex relationship that fails in the deeply homophobic African context. A sad constraint of time and place but singing with frustration about wanting freedom, the song contains underlying universal truth. A piano ballad of sorts, Makhukhu intimately details his lover’s shortcomings in tones of disappointment, sadness, and love. It's here that Marea’s deep honeyed vocals shine in the mix. Obviously, a comparison to Moses Sumney feels lazy, as the depth of emotion and gritty earthiness in Marea’s music makes for compelling listening. Sung in Zulu, Rah is an atmospheric ode to the scorched earth, featuring amazing vocal contributions from Zoe Madiga and opera singer Ann Masina.
Apparently, much of this album was recorded quickly in just one take. It suggests a lot of forethought must have gone into the arrangements we hear. Marea seems keen to strike a balance between well-rehearsed and immaculately produced whilst capturing certain live energy and being just a little frayed at the edges. Clocking in at just over 9 minutes, Banzai exemplifies this approach as it builds from introspective musings into a frenzied explosion of experimental jazz that feels like a strange kind of ritual exorcism intended to cleanse heart and soul. This album documents the development and emergence of a pretty unique talent. It will be interesting to see how this ambitious record plays out in a live context when Marea tours Australia later this year.