Spirit Says Yes!, the first1 album by Sierra Leonean-American artist and musician YATTA makes me ask questions. Of place: What is home? Where is home? Of belonging: How does one belong? What does it mean to belong? Of self: What is an “I”? Where is this “I”? Her music, at once playful and tender, intimate and abrasive, plants these questions in my brain. It soothes and probes, loops and folds, navigating the vexed existence of the I who is not-at-home.
An intimate album of hermetic spaces, Spirit Says Yes! is unafraid to show its seams. Its songs are assured and assuring, inviting the listener to take up residence inside their playful structures as they crystallize for the briefest of instants before returning to flux; always shifting, always searching. Violins and guitars buzz, bass and drums shake. Chimes and bells, kicks and claps. YATTA’s mellifluous, quivering voice snakes through it all, diffusing like smoke, the ground upon which everything is built. On “heart2home,” her coos and hums form an enveloping sonic veneer — woozy and opaque. She accompanies herself with brittle sung melody, questioning: “How’d you turn my heart into a home?” Violins scythe siren-like into the distance, her voice gradually overcome by distortion and noise. Here, within this thin band of rippling sound, home is something carried within oneself, a fragile thing that bends and breaks. Home is that which is lost, but which can also be rediscovered, recreated.
For YATTA, the process of finding home is intimately tied with that of finding oneself. In her words: “I feel like there’s a rooting that happens when you know who you are and where you come from.” This album figures this act of rooting, of spreading out, sending feelers across continents, time zones, and sonic structures. It finds solace and strength in this rooting, in the loop of a voice, the curl of a melody, the bowed violin and plucked guitar. As YATTA probes outward, she settles inward. “desert song’s” droning, insistent strings are trailed by a ramshackle beat that gains in confidence as it unfolds. YATTA’s vocals are flighty, dancing nimbly across and between beat and drone, declaring: “Don’t need no one/ Don’t need no one/ To tell me/ What to do”. By exploring the self and the “I,” questioning how it fractures and coheres, YATTA arrives at an ethic of the self whose practice extends naturally to others: “To be able to shield out all of the shit that the world is telling you and listen to solely yourself, and communicate that to others, is magic.”
These songs are balms for roving spirits. Gurgling and warping, they position themselves at the interstices of nation, place, and culture. They soothe and roar, folding jazz vocals and pastoral ambience into their fragile, steely structures. Stretching out their palms, they present themselves to the listener with faith and humor. There’s a strength to be gained in finding yourself, in finding home.
1. YATTA self-released Spirit Said Yes! at the end of last year. This expanded edition comes out through PTP.