is a singer from Djibouti, on the horn of Africa. She became known locally for
her extraordinary and powerful delivery. Record producer Ian Brennan recorded
Momina on her home turf in the spring of 2018 drawn by what he describes as her
“kamikaze vibrato,” also telling in the sleeve notes to
how she is rare amongst the Afar people in being a woman who writes her own
songs. The first rendition we hear from Momina, who was 71 years old at the
time of recording, is “Everybody knows I have taken a young lover.” A single
note from a guitar, repeated like a tolling bell and accompanied by two
murmured voices, one of them Momina's, sets things off and underpins her vocal
throughout. Hers is not singing in the commonly accepted use of the term,
feeling more like impassioned speech, the intimate and heartfelt sharing of a
story with a friend, yet at the same time her phrasing is nothing if not
musical. In between each line she leaves space as the guitar string continues
to chime, but underneath the murmuring continues.
This is Ian Brennan's latest release in his mission to give wider exposure to
under-represented music, travelling far to find it in its own environment and
this is certainly no studio recording. The session took place in a stilt hut at
the edge of the sea as the tide was coming in and this can sometimes be heard
in the background, as well as the creaking timber of the building itself.
Several tracks have call and response backing vocals from friends in attendance
and at different times there is also accompaniment from two guitars, a
calabash, handclapping and other light percussion, though the title track "Afar
Ways" is sung completely acapella.
Momina's voice is the dominant presence throughout the album apart from one
track, "Heya," in which one of her male accompanists, Andre Fanazara takes the
lead vocal. On "Honey Bee" the two acoustic guitars contribute strongly, one
(played by JP) providing rhythm, the other, played by Fanazara who comes up
with some very nifty lead lines.
The actual content of the songs on
is not indicated, though the vivid descriptiveness of some of the titles
provides a way in. In general though it is Yanna's committed vocal style that
communicates, in a way that shows how thinking of language as being defined by
history and geography is sometimes just not sufficient.
As the album develops, and there is a feeling that the track order might be
largely chronological, there is a sense of Yanna Momina really getting into her
stride and in contrast with the angst in her voice on earlier pieces she sounds
as if she's really starting to enjoy herself, along with everybody else. “The
donkey doesn't listen” was apparently largely improvised and at times her
proclaiming, which takes the form of a kind of rap accompanied by handclaps and
percussive mouth sounds, breaks into giggles, along with a good deal of
whooping and hollering. This is so infectious that in the parallel universe I
inhabit when I'm imagining a musical world as it could be, this track would be
a global hit, with young and old singing along as they walk down city streets.
The final track, “My family won't let me marry the man I love (I am forced to
wed my uncle)” is a song that Yanna Momina chose to end the session with, a
number previously unknown to the others present and she sang it unaccompanied.
Hers is a very special voice.
You can read an interview with producer and sound recordist Ian Brennan and learn more about this recording and many others he has traveled the world to document.