Astral Realm: An Alternative Roundup #9

Strange, atypical hybrids abound in this Summer special…

Welcome to Astral Realm, where Clash staff writer Shahzaib navigates the cosmos of the newest, most essential alternative releases in music; exploring the liminal spaces between progressive R&B and Rap, lucid electronics and futurist jazz. Each month’s roundup features a Focus Artist interview, a Next Wave artist spotlight and a breakdown of noteworthy song and projects.

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Focus Artist: Tanerélle

Tanerélle revels in sensory delights. Through her polychromatic iconography and syncretic compositions in music and film, the Atlanta-born auteur fashions slow-burn rhapsodies, ensnaring wayfaring drifters to experience the fullness of her art. Current project ’82 Moons’ moves between earthly and celestial planes; sparse symphonic flourishes coursing through sensual torch songs that evolve from love as remote and mordant to the eventual salvation that comes with irrevocably loving oneself, and another.

Tanerélle shares why her predilection for sci-fi synaesthesia is a consistent theme in her work, the restorative experience of co-scoring a film with a subversive black female protagonist at its centre and why Afrofuturistic visibility is essential in mainstream art.

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A prominent feature of your work since your debut is your interrogation of sci-fi, space and the cosmos. In which ways does it correlate with your expression as a black female creative?

Space is infinite and with that comes infinite possibilities and inspiration. Being a black woman, I feel that same depth as well; that infinite, eternal thread from my Mother, my Grandmother, all the way back to my past ancestors. When I think of space, I feel it’s always the best way to reach for metaphors of things that are grounded down to earth – it gives me a way to express those things in a much more palpable way. It makes you understand it on a deeper level by keeping it very sensory; whether it’s hearing, tasting, seeing, feeling, just all the things I feel like referencing space within my music allows. I have a deaf fan base and even without being able to hear it they’re still experiencing it in the same central way, from the words that they’re able to see. I just feel like space allows for everyone to experience it in their own way.

Your visceral visual art celebrates black femininity through the lens of futurism. Who’s on your mood board, what do you tap into visually when you create these treatments?

Typically, when I’m building a treatment, I like a lot of colour and reference a lot of nature. When I’m coming up with treatments, I’ll say: “I’m thinking fire for this look” and it’ll just be a bunch of pictures that touched me like fire on the water, fire on this dress or fire in the sky.  

I’m reluctant to reference people when it comes to visual inspiration because it can skew the story you’re trying to tell: you go from being inspired to trying to mimic. I’m keen to highlight cinema that’s inspired me. There’s this website that has shots from any movie you can think of. So, whether I see film grabs of ‘Gattaca’, which is one of my favourite sci-fi films, I’m able to pull references from the feel, the colouring and the cinematography. I feel like that allows my shoots to come to life but still have a sense of originality; it’s all inspired by something but it still allows us the freedom to tell the story how we want to.

What was a young Tanerélle listening to? What worlds and which artists where you enthused by?

These parts always get a bit complex for me because my Mother listened to everything, so I have endless inspiration. I would definitely say, especially within my teen years, that Sade, Paramore, Purity Ring, Janelle Monáe, Alt-j and The xx were my source of inspiration. Then there’s the other side of me that was listening to James Morrison, John Mayer and Colbie Caillat, that really sweet side which tempered my personality. I think the most consistent thing within all these artists was the storytelling.

Speaking of storytelling, you starred in the western-inspired video for Victoria Monét’s ‘F.U.C.K’. Seems like quite a natural pairing…

That experience in itself was magnificent. Victoria is quite literally one of the sweetest, most talented women in this world. She’s an inspiration and her pen game is absolutely insane. It’s an honour to know her on that level but also to tap into the acting side of things because it’s one of my other passions. The video was shot on film which was really cool to see and we look so badass together. We actually made a western and we looked fire doing it!

Do you view elements of your work as Afrofuturist? Do you feel this description of future-leaning black aesthetics narrows the scope of your creations?

I feel in this present moment my work can be described as leaning towards Afrofuturism because sci-fi and space is a such a heavy reference within my work. However, I do hope that it doesn’t become a box for me because I don’t like boxes. It’s interesting because anytime I post something on TikTok I get called Garnet from Steven Universe. I’ll go on other black girls’ pages and if they have big curly hair they’re called the same thing.

It made me realise that I wanted to speak on this view that people are not intentionally trying to offend or insult. It’s a reality of our representation and the problem is representation. If there were more characters, more animated characters within the things that we’re watching and we’re seeing every day, it would just be a part of our reality. I realised that this is why we’re doing what we’re doing; to have more people that look like us and sound like us and are able to establish their own identity in this shared universe.

Your project ’82 Moons’ is a reference to Saturn which has 82 moons orbiting it, also a nod to a definitive song of yours, ‘Mama Saturn’. Is that when you started to sow the seeds of this project?

‘Mama Saturn’ ended up being my alias, my alter ego. I felt it was only right to have this project be named something that references the moons orbiting and revolving around you. This project is about allowing yourself to be the centre of love and your own universe. It’s an ode to Saturn and what ‘Mama Saturn’ did for me.

I started definitively recording for this project last April, about a year ago in Atlanta. I was doing a writing camp for another artist; I’d written a few songs and track number three ‘Good Good’ was one of those. This track is very consumed with love, I jokingly say it’s ‘Cater 2 U’ 2.0.

Have you seen the retrospective discourse about ‘Cater 2 U’ being a “pick me” anthem? What’s your take on that? 

You know what’s so funny? I tweeted one day that ‘Good Good’ is a song about the people who deserve having a song like this written about them. If we keep singing songs about how men aren’t shit, you’re quite literally going to keep manifesting that within your life. I always say the point of my music is to heal, feel and celebrate. If you’re singing about drugs, robbing and killing, your words become reality. Words are spells that we say all the time.

The reality of the world is you can never make everyone happy. People see what they want to see. The point was to make a song about something so loving, so fulfilling, so unconditional to someone deserving of it. If you’re vibrating on this frequency, you can’t help but attract someone in your life that deserves this kind of treatment because they’re clearly treating you this way or reciprocating it.

Some of the lyrics are banal but it carries the hallmarks of what a typical R&B love song projected at that time…

The intention of the song is I want to cater to my man. I don’t find anything wrong with that. It’s important to say that because I’m bisexual so I don’t generally use pronouns within my music for that reason. It’s nice to have music that’s about catering to your partner. It’s okay to submit to the love, the softness, the safety and the vulnerability of love. It’s powerful to say: I would do absolutely anything for you.

’82 Moons’ languishes in the heady experience of love. You’ve written songs before that are lovelorn in nature and rooted in pain but this project feels more optimistic…

Most of my music has been about yearning and unrequited love, yes. I definitely have music where you just want to hurt, like ‘Won’t’ and ‘Nothing Without You’; ‘Boys Like You’ is me being so ashamed at wanting this thing that is horrendous for me, acknowledging that I’m chasing a loose end. I’ve endured things as a child that have led me to being this person that prioritises words and not actions because I wasn’t hearing nice things growing up. Nothing makes a hurt man feel bigger than making a big powerful woman feel small, all of my music for the most part is about that.

With ‘82 Moons’, I needed to write about stuff that felt good. The first two songs are strategically placed because I’m still healing through some of that hurt, but by ‘Good Good’ it transitions for the rest of the EP being about yummy feelings and love that actually feels good that I don’t want to run away from anymore.

You co-composed the Sundance-awarded film ‘Nanny’, a psychological horror that grapples with racism, trauma and displacement. There are sonic similarities between your music and this score, especially in its sparseness…

The core of any great artist is knowing who you are. Cinema is such a big part of my world; scores are such a big part of my world. I co-scored ‘Nanny’ with my music partner Bartek Gliniak and even within that process, it was about how we convey the feelings of what’s happening within this film. A lot of the score is vocal; it’s me wailing, crying or screaming. It wasn’t hard because you’re dealing with the micro aggression of racism within this world: to be able to experiment with sounds, to convey the feeling of something I could really understand was special. You’re there to support someone else and someone else’s vision. It’s the same approach in the studio recording my own material.

Your own music is symphonic and immersive; slow-burning numbers that are intentionally drawn out. How did you capture this feeling of remoteness and longing in these cosmic love gems?

I have to shout out my producer Camper, our creative chemistry is off the charts! He already knew what I wanted. The opening track ‘Space Cowgirl’ sounds like someone floating in space and you instantly feel this isolation. The core of me musically is always going to be storytelling; it has to be audio-visual. I feel like that allows everything to always sound filmic.

The main theme is love. What does submitting to love look like? What does it sound like? The flow of ‘Water’ to ‘Translate’ to ‘Loving You’ is intentional. ‘Loving You’ is philosophical, with a lot nature wrapped within the theme and it’s so interesting having that because space and earth can seem like polar opposites but the thing I’m always trying to explain is that it’s one in the same. Love, nature, space and submission are definitely the themes within this project. 

What comes next for you? Are you in debut album mode?

I’m working on the debut album which is going to come out next year. I want to book my first series or film this year so I’ve been auditioning a lot. I just got off tour with Jojo so I’m hoping to keep performing at festivals as the summer progresses. I want to do a mini tour for my EP, I’m just figuring out the logistics of everything because I’m still independent so I pay for everything!

Final words on what a Tanerélle song will do for you…

I want to evoke healing. I want to evoke feeling and not feeling ashamed to feel; not being ashamed to be right where you are, that you will heal through adversity and you will celebrate what comes after. Life is a celebration. I want to always evoke love and loving on yourself, loving on the people around you, loving on the people you don’t know, loving on the earth, loving on the planet. It sounds so simple but love is really the be all and end all in my mind. It encompasses all of what we are outside of these temples.

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Astral Realm: An Alternative Roundup #9

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Next Wave Recommendation: They Hate Change

They Hate Change, the Tampa Bay musical duo comprised of Andre and Vonne, are archivists and alchemists in equal measure. Unruly masters of underground noise, they extrapolate digital soundbites and repurpose them into hi-NRG creations that skirt the technical parameters of rap as we know it.

New LP ‘Finally, New’ cements their positioning as subgenre nihilists – pulverising algorithmic conventions through a hi-tech blender, feverishly searching for anthemic highs. Niftily mastermixed, the duo alternate verses – all bravado and self-knowing jocularity – over head-spinning breakbeats and burly basslines. The result is a hypnagogic exercise unlike anything you’ll hear this year.

Meet the co-creators showing us hip-hop forever exists on a continuum.

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Your name ‘They Hate Change’ sums up your incendiary approach to music – a refusal to sit within the remits of established convention. Who came up with the moniker and who are you addressing?

Vonne: At this point it’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten when and how exactly we came up with the name, but it represents our place as artists that will always be taking a different approach to the art and that there are others out there that are opposed.

How did you meet? What’s your origin story?

Andre: We met at an apartment complex. Us along with a few of our friends would always hangout talking about random topics. If it had anything to do with music and fashion, we would be the two that carried on the conversation about the smallest details; what year a shoe model came out, who had the best third album even down to the style of cuffs for your jeans. We were and still are a mess.

What’s your process as co-creators? Do you work in unison? Do you work separately on your verses/production and then come together?

Andre: More than likely we are working in unison. We have weekly sessions, during those sessions’ words are barely spoken between us two, not sure why but we think it’s some bug Ableton hasn’t fixed yet. Over the years we’ve grown to understand the strengths of one another. No ego is involved, we just care about the music. We’re always willing to see what the other person is thinking or how can we create something sonically that challenges us lyrically.

Vonne: On production we work together typically, but if something is started separately it always gets finalised together. Verses are happening at all times; little single lines written down while shopping, voice notes recorded in the car but like the production, the final product gets perfected when we’re together.

You regularly endorse the scenes that are a part of your history. How has Tampa Bay informed your creativity? What other scenes appeal to your sense of discovery?

Andre: All our videos have included some sort of landmark or staple that folk from our area can connect with. People outside of our scene tend to think there’s not much going on in our area; so, we leaned into that more. Instead of shooting a video at this beach you all know and love, we’re going to shoot a video by this lake that only people around our town knows about. It’s not the fact that we have to try even harder, it’s us having to take a second to look in front of us to see what we actually have in front of us.

Vonne: Tampa Bay music culture is amazing and I think our realisation that the things that happened here happened similarly in other places was the most important part of our DNA. I used to go to Teen Nights at recreation centres, ballrooms and small clubs and spend the night jamming out to up-tempo Ecstasy jams and breakbeats. When we watched DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn talk about the House Music parties they went to in their youth and how those styles evolved into Footwork, we started thinking about how Tampa styles could be evolved. That’s where importing jungle and breakbeat house from the UK, techno from the Midwest and West Coast electro all came into play.

You’re not new to having a sense of musical abandon in your work; your previous release ‘Now, and Never Again’ merged bedroom prog-rock and dance with hip-hop. What did that release represent in your journey as artists?

Andre: That release had a ton of emotional weight that was let loose. We addressed things from our personal life down to issues we had with people around our scene. We understood that things we were saying might’ve been too direct, but it would be the last time we would address things in that manner. There are a few audio skits and interludes on this record that we really love! We wanted to set the precedent for our listeners that we want them to just listen sometimes. All that noise would then start to carry us forward with our next release that would keep house shows and synthesisers in mind.

Your debut album ‘Finally, New’ is out on the renowned imprint, Jagjaguwar. Does the album signify a creative reboot for you?

Andre: It’s a continuation of what we’ve been preparing. Obviously being a part of the Jagjaguwar team has given us the shiny suit appeal but we’ve been ready creatively for a while now. I think during the process of creating this record we really thought about the sonics. We could go anywhere, but we wanted to ensure that people heard the best we had to offer. There needed to be a balance between both the lyrics and production and we felt like we achieved that.

Vonne: I think the title is more us emphasising (or joking about) the fact that we’ve been around for a bit, doing what we’re doing on this album and now we get to be “new” since we’re on a bigger platform. In terms of our ethos and direction, we haven’t switched up.

The album is a complete DIY affair but has the feel of a record that was made in a state-of-the-art studio – it’s elevated, fluid and bombastic. In what ways did you ‘upgrade’ in terms of your recording process?

Andre: Outside of a few minor upgrades the big difference with recording this record was demos. Previously, we’ve never done this and that’s not to say that we’re above it, but we would usually “demo” our songs at house shows or other live events and then take those same cues back to the studio. We took more time focusing on the arrangement of the album versus individually. We thought about how we setup our DJ setlists. Blending different styles and genres wasn’t something new to us. It needs to be ignorable but also engaging, having a few demos of each song helped us figure out placement and track length.

‘From The Floor’ is one of my favourite songs of the year because of the UK-US underground synergy. Break down the composite parts of a song that makes it the transatlantic triumph it is…

Andre: Shut up and dance was the tone for sure! Our good friend Nick León helped bring this one to life. Lyrically we wanted this track to be light and have the production do the heavy lifting. A lot of the inspiration came from classic Florida records in the 80s and 90s. Those records seem to have captured the party scene perfectly and we felt like this track had to emulate those same feelings.

Vonne: The booming 808 is pure Miami Bass; it’s a modern 808, not a tired 80s one. “Came up from the floor, we was plotting on the low” is our footwork and ghetto house impression: a nice repeated phrase that stamps the ethos of the song. The “I’m not a star…” verse is like an Egyptian Lover, World Class Wrecking Crew kind of vibe – a hazy, trying-to-be-sexy vocal. The breaks were influenced by ‘XL Recordings: The Third Chapter’, a pure SL2 type moment after the slow build-up, a nice cracking payoff you may not have been expecting.

‘Finally, New’ is hip-hop at its core. Hip-hop is historically a radical genre in the ways it reinvents itself and represents the social mores of a particular era. What’s your view of the ‘modern’ iteration of hip-hop’?

Andre: I think the times we live in now have made it easier for people to try and put out more music, which is great. I do think things have become more reliant on algorithms. With anything you must take the good with the bad, having gatekeepers choose what people hear and what they don’t isn’t cool. One ‘bad’ song could inspire another ‘good’ one. I will add that I’d love for everyone to step out of their comfort zones every now and again.

Vonne: Hip-hop is the greatest genre ever and I think even the worst of it is better than anything else you could put it up against. That being said though, as participants, we see all the lame shit happening right now and previously, and we address that all over the album. We prefer to keep it in the music because it can come off snobby and lame if you constantly talk about what hip-hop you don’t like.

What’s your response to puritanical rap loyalists who might say your album isn’t a “pure” representation of the genre?

Andre: I would ask they give us five albums that are and we can explain how ours fits in right with their picks. We understand our album doesn’t have the same keys or drums that were used in previous records and that’s cool but the essence of what this genre is, we definitely fit in. Hell, maybe we don’t, maybe it’s something that’s “Finally New!”

Vonne: I can’t see anybody that actually likes rap not liking this album because this is an album by people who actually like rap and enjoy being rappers!

‘Finally, New’ is a knowing nod to crate-digging influences; there’s a real Anglophilic influence running through these tracks. Name three notable UK artists you were channelling on this record…

Andre: Brian Eno, Goldie and M-Beat come to mind first. All of them are different but their ability to experiment and retrain the listener to something different is amazing. We still pick apart their work and try to figure out how they did the things they did. When we brought our first rack sampler, we thought we had superpowers until we needed to figure out how to trim breaks and figure out how many blocks can fit on a floppy disk. We were a mess!

Vonne: SL2, Newham Generals and Nenah Cherry. I won’t go into extreme detail but they all had absolutely perfect drums, and drums are the genre.

I have to highlight the track ‘Reversible Keys’ with Vritra – this gorgeous fusion of sound system culture and bass music…

Andre: During one of our sessions at home we were arranging the first part of this track to be minimal, but we just loved it too much and kept adding layers. It’s heavily influenced by prog-rock. We wanted to have this wall of organised noise be in the face of whoever was listening and pose the question: “how does this track feel?” versus “what does this track sound like?” All of these lush pads and drums are just knocking and then Vritra sweeps in abruptly to give it a facelift. It’s always a pleasure working with Vritra, we’ve been fans for years.

What comes next for They Hate Change? Are you anticipating you’ll no longer have that ‘underground sensibility’ as you veer towards the mainstream? 

Andre: Creatively we tend to not care what others are doing. Granted we are consumers too but we have a clear vision as to what we want to do. Whether or not we enter into mainstream space it’s always going to be about the music. It’s what got us to that point and our plan is to continue to improve on it.

Vonne: If being underground is less about how many people know you and more about an intentional stance, I don’t think we’ll ever lose our underground-ness. We’ll go double platinum and still not be down with the fake shit!

What should listeners happening upon They Hate Change for the first time stay for?

Andre: Music exploration! Us blending these genres together into one is a way of us sharing what we’ve found along the years. There’s so much music out there, just dive and find something new. With all the access we have sometimes it can become overwhelming. Physical media in all forms has given us this bug to go out and explore what’s in crates or even read the credits for movies, shows and podcasts to figure who was behind what. There’s no telling what it can do for you.

Vonne: When our music is playing, I want people to imagine they’re the ones who made the song, even if they aren’t musicians (yet!) That’s what I do with my favourite songs.

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Release Roundup:

Quinn Oulton – ‘Alexithymia’

‘Alexithymia’, the title of Quinn Oulton’s debut LP, is defined as an impassive state of being; an “alexithymiac” is unable to correctly ascribe emotions to feelings, often a prerequisite or a signifier of depression. For Quinn Oulton, the process of song craft allowed for the coordination of his own internal chaos: the purging of expurgated emotions. As impressive as the haze of electro-acoustic soundboard is on ‘Alexithymia’, his naturally mournful tone means this indie luminary is effectively able to transmit some raw and revelatory emotional insight. Oulton’s conviction in exploring the contours of his voice has never been more potent or powerful than on this ultra-linear album: he soars to new heights with falsetto-laced flourishes (‘Remember’), stadium-sized yelps (‘Far Away’) and stark confessionals (‘Better’).

Girl Ultra – ‘EL SUR’

A Latinx musical mainstay since 2017’s EP ‘Boys’, Girl Ultra indulged in smoky hues of inviting and iridescent R&B. On 2019’s full-length ‘Nuevos Aires’, the Mexico artist tapped into the year’s compulsion for throwback funk and opulent synth-pop, but this year’s project ‘EL SUR’ is the true jewel in her crown. Mariana de Miguel retains her everywoman user-friendliness but leans into her roots as a touring DJ, mapping out a constellation of euphoric garage-house, cyberpunk escapades and pitch-shifted dancefloor titillations – an acid-tonged, soulful reminiscence on angsty first trysts and sexual awakenings. Emotions are amplified and tempos are raised until they’re reined in: closer ‘Jungla de locos’ gestures at Girl Ultra’s bruised side, a melancholic vocal over a trip hop-inspired beat soundtracking after-hours alienation.

Theodor Black – ‘PARADISE FM’

For me, Theodor Black is one of the most exciting propositions operating on the fringes of UK rap. Out on buzzy incubator Majestic Casual’s new imprint Friends of the New, ‘PARADISE FM’, Black’s second project, is grounded in the atmosphere and lore of growing up in the shadow of murky cityscapes; evoked through references to the drudge of menial work, failed uber eats deliveries and a cool apathy towards institutions.

Every track on this project takes exhilarating detours: ‘Capricorn’ switches midway from a jazz-rap lilt to an ambient hallucination and ‘Redbone’ begins as a woozy meditation before morphing into hyperactive piano-house glory. On ‘PARADISE FM’, Black’s personal delirium is an echo chamber of looped voices playing out his fears and lofty dreams.

700 Bliss – ‘Nothing To Declare’

The collaborative brainchild of DJ Haram and Moor Mother, ‘Nothing To Declare’ is a radical rewiring and frictional noise-rap tribute to Philadelphia’s countercultural art scene. Both DJ Haram and Moor Mother are neoteric creatives in their own right and this collision course only deepens their fecund experimentalism; the interlude ‘Easyjet’ features both playfully deriding critics who labelled their collaborative work as needlessly “dark” or “pretentious”.

The one-two punch of ‘Nightflame’ and ‘Anthology’ captures the duo’s co-engineered chemistry as communicants of avant-garde club culture: DJ Haram’s out-of-step PC music clangers, ambient static and caustic vocal delivery plays off Moor Mother’s hardcore cogitations and menacing stunt-on-them declarations. Jarring, brash and joyously impervious to convention, ‘Nothing To Declare’ is an insignia of collective rage against the machine, but more notably a simulation of rhythmic collusion that incites you to get out of your stupor and move.

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Ravyn Lenae – ‘Venom’

A Ravyn Lenae-Monte Booker combo always bears fruit. On track two off Lenae’s sinuous debut full length ‘Hypnos’, Chicago’s finest come together once again, this time for a crime caper set in the multiverse. Deviating from the album’s rootsy slow jams into techno-tinged territory, Lenae’s cherubic tone belies the unbridled lifeforce seething underneath, that of an antiheroine gliding through a digital dimension taking names and seeking retribution.

Jahmal Padmore – ‘Cut The Rope’

The outsize influence of Toronto’s underground scene courses through Jahmal Padmore’s full-length ‘Esparonto’; a vitrine of kaleidoscopic live musicianship, a pledge to relationships, roots and selfhood. Entirely instrumental, the track ‘Cut The Rope’ anchors Padmore’s synth-lined minimalism in a psychedelic funk-nu jazz amalgam, playing out a mind-expanding trip that would make Dilla proud.

Kyra – ‘After The Love’

Partial to swells of strings in hyper-romantic songs, I had to spotlight this glazed reverie from a West London talent you may already be familiar with. Often songs with arrangements like this necessitate an exaggerated resonance only the classic soul singers of yesteryear could communicate but Kyra possesses an expressive voice of her own, sliding smoothly between scales and registers, evocatively playing out the post-honeymoon stage of cold and distant disaffection.

Noya Rao – ‘Hardwired’

In the Leeds-London based quartet’s sculptural approach to new single ‘Hardwired’ – the second track lifted from forthcoming EP, ‘North’ – lies its understated charm. Vocalist Olivia Bhattacharjee’s smoky intonation adds weight to a weightless song; an ode to disharmony and disconnect starting faint and folky, coalescing into a more melodic centre before it’s downtempo conclusion. Noya Rao’s soft-focus wistfulness continues in rich, vivid vein.

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Words: Shahzaib Hussain // @ShazSherazi

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