Perrine Fifadji was born in Congo-Brazzaville with family roots in Benin, and grew up in France. She may be trilingual but when listening to her latest, Une Goutte D’Eau, I cannot help but feel the presence of many languages besides. Her breath is the sound of soil, welcoming all seeds to share root space. The album’s title—meaning “a drop of water,” sung in French and Lingala, a Congolese tongue that is her vehicle of choice—is the aphorism of an artist who sees herself as only she can: through the filter of lived experience. From that philosophical starting point emerges a wondrous sound, at once subterranean and stratospheric, inviting instruments as if they were destined to dance together.
In each song, however joyful, there is a thread of mourning, paying respects to everyone who took their last breaths so that we might take our first. The progression of “Motéma Nan Gaï,” which finds Fifadji bowing to loved ones who have left us, blends insistent rhythms and harmonies. The paradox here, however, is that whatever hope one might see on the horizon hovers just out of reach. Like a dream, it can only be grasped behind closed eyes, thus leaving the dreamer vulnerable.
But Fifadji is ready to face reality with eyes wide open. Such resolution leaves its footprints across “Talobiyézé” and “Xo Sussu,” wherein every joy is cross-hatched by darker memories. Like the percussion-heavy “Ruya - Rêve” and “Kpo Minon,” they mourn the dead by living life to its fullest. Yet nowhere is her honor so bountifully offered as in “Mama.” Accompanied only by cello, she intones that universal signifier. If this doesn’t give you pause, you may be moving too fast.
Une Goutte D’Eau is as much about bringing hands together in prayer as it is offering those same hands to those for whom we pray. “Do Alo Hwide” embodies this selflessness to the fullest. The feeling is again maternal, only instead of children she embraces pieces of wounded land.
All of this is encompassed by the circle of “Amen” and “Jesus Sinto.” Where the latter is sung a capella, the former is more collective vocal contract—a promise to the weary listener that whatever happens, she will guide us to safety. Though violence may rock the foundations beneath our feet, though half the world screams while the other turns a deaf ear, though the powerful wallow in their ineffectualness while the weak are ignored for their strength, Fifadji has turned our ears to a truth wrought not in flesh but in spirit. - Tyran Grillo