Developing a voice is a necessary and often difficult experience for many artists. Such a process can become even more challenging when the country you find yourself living in isn’t the one of your birth, and you are simultaneously searching for a sense of your own identity while others seek to define you. Such was the case for vocalist and songwriter Wayne Snow as he moved from his native Nigeria to France as a child and spent his formative years having to justify his musical experimentations, being labelled as an ‘African artist’ before those he encountered even listened to his work. Following on from this fraught experience, Snow moved to Berlin and soon found the collaborative nature of the city a welcome space for the incubation of his talent.
Not long after establishing himself in Berlin, Snow was introduced to the producer Max Graef by a mutual friend and the pair soon started working on projects together, culminating in Snow’s feature on the neo-soul, electro-minimalist track ‘Running’, taken from Graef’s 2014 debut LP, ‘Rivers of the Red Planet’. From the opening verse of ‘Running’, it is clear that with Snow’s soft falsetto and smooth phrasing and Graef’s penchant for a Dilla-style dragged rhythm and languorous synths make the pair a perfect match. Since then they have worked on two EP releases – 2014’s ‘Red Runner’ and 2015’s ‘Rosie’, culminating now in the release of Snow’s debut LP, ‘Freedom TV’.
‘Freedom TV’, as its title suggests, is the product of an artist liberated from generic constraints, and those of the wider music industry, instead experimenting without cultural preconception. Opener ‘Cooler’ sets the theme for much of the record in its slow-build of minimal, chopped drumming and Rhodes chords, all set beneath Snow’s falsetto mantra of “Baby I’m cooler / Yes, I’m cooler”; lines evinced by his effortless delivery. Graef’s presence is felt throughout the LP, having produced six of its ten songs, with highlights including the lo-fi aesthetics on ‘Still In The Shell’, the 2-step rhythms and infectious melodies of ‘Red Runner’, and Sunday poolside vibes of ‘Drunk’.
The remainder of the tracks on the album are produced by other collaborators of Snow’s and Graef’s: French producer Neue Grafik and Naples-based duo Nu Guinea. Nu Guinea layer funky percussion on the afrobeat, feel-good ‘Nothing Wrong’, whilst Neue Grafik delivers one of the best cuts on the record, the up-tempo bruk patois of ‘The Rhythm’, as well as spaced-out slow-jam ‘Nothing But The Best’, and the thematic core of the record, ‘Freedom R.I.P’. ‘Freedom R.I.P’ showcases Snow’s mind at work, combining lyrical message with deft production, making the track a musical eulogy to the Zimbabwean female guerrilla-fighter and poet-activist, Freedom Nyamubaya. Playing on ‘freedom’ as concept, as well as name, Snow references the power and violent potential of his medium, forcefully speaking the poet’s words: “Let my hand work, my mouth sing / My pencil write, about the same thing / My bullet aimed at”.
For a record that jumps between soul, bruk, garage, house and jazz, Snow still manages to posit a strong sense of his identity as an artist throughout. Working collaboratively, his voice binds the productions together, delicately holding in the balance a fidelity to the history of the genres he grew up with – jazz and soul – while pairing them with the electronic and club influences that keep the record avoiding nostalgia and sounding fresh. The consistency of this genre-hopping could come across as jarring to some, leaving Snow’s experimentations as a series of sketches rather than a finished work. Yet, ‘Freedom TV’ is a self-assured statement from an artist that is still developing his voice and creating vibrant, powerful music in the process.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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