MUSIC PROFILE: The local music scene has been fortunate to welcome another potent performer and musician in Ami Faku, who has enjoyed a rapid rise to stardom in just two years. Phumlani S Langa takes in a performance of hers, spins her debut album and chats with the once-shy artist about her music and time in the industry so far.
Johannesburg has been buzzing with people claiming that the fraternity of Afro-soul has another hard-hitting act in the fold. Ami Faku has created a sound shrouded in raw emotion with her life experiences providing the gravitas that powers her music. The streets sing praises of her songs and the media seem drawn to the young songwriter.
#Trending went to DJ Kenzhero’s Untitled Basement in Braamfontein last Friday to take in a performance of Faku. It was a scintillating experience, which you can explore in our review of her set and album.
A friend to the listener
A new flame enters the fold of Afro Soul.
Rocking black leather trousers, a white T-shirt and mid-cut Air Force Ones in all white, the singer is early for our meeting.
Sitting at a table alone all unassuming, she’s listening to some music on headphones.
A half-eaten sandwich rests on the table along with her diary and a creamy coffee drink in a plastic cup.
We don’t shake hands, instead, we bump Air Force Ones and begin what turns out to be a revealing conversation.
She speaks in a wispy voice and you can see her thoughts pass over her face as she explains how it was to be met with rejection by the talent searches.
“I was under a lot of stress. I was thinking about my next plan. I didn’t want to give up, I was always planning something else.”
She badly wanted people to hear her music and prove that there wasn’t anyone out there like her. She tells me that she learnt controlling her instrument through the church, where she sang and first committed her spirit to the music.
A new contender to the throne.
“I would listen to a lot of music and lines would hit me or I’d love a certain melody. That’s where the love began I guess,” says Faku.
She brightens up and giggles slightly as she explains how she marvels at the reactions of people in her audience.
“I’m all about emotion in my music and I love seeing those emotions come across in the crowd. My music has to have emotion all the time.”
She wears her heart on her sleeve and her sound resides in this pocket of art.
“It takes time to make an album. You have to be in a great space,” she says.
“If I am feeling deeply hurt by something personal, I’ll take that and put it in the art. And if I’m not going through something, I’ll write from your perspective or someone else’s.”
She describes it as being a friend to her listeners. She never uses the word fans, she tells me. She speaks about a veil we all have, the masks we wear and how she aims to peer behind yours while revealing her truth.
“I hope people will understand the music better through my performances and be good people to those they are around. I try to have a fair connection with the people in my life and I want that for my supporters. Submit more to your feelings, it’s okay to feel what you are feeling.”
She dismisses the idea that she is a star or celebrity and claims she wants to keep who she is intact – a sensitive artist from Port Elizabeth seeking to understand her world and share her experiences. She has five videos out and a few features with artists such as Sun-El Musician, Samthing Soweto and even an OG beatsmith, 37MPH.
Her name is held in high regard with her vocal prowess and heartfelt music seeping into the minds and playlists of the nation.
How to craft a debut 101
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Imali: This is how a debut should sound.
Back at The Artivist Restaurant in Braamfontein, I was tossed on a seat with the nose bleeds. Not so high up or quite so far away from the action but also not prime. It didn’t matter, however, as the efficacy of Ami Faku’s stage presence not only reached me but in moments carved a way in and through the soul.
You can always tell what kind of artist you’re about to see when the ambient sounds of D’Angelo and Nina Simone are what she opts to play before she comes out.
Quite bold too, considering the virtuosity of both musicians. The two-night performance had been sold out two nights in a row and her album had moved around 10 000 units.
A four-piece band with lots of keys, a guitar and drums emerges along with two backing vocalists who sounded like KC and Jojo. Faku comes down the stairs to the club singing gently as the crowd applauds. Her hair is braided and she’s wearing white heels and a white dress.
Oh My My, her second song for the evening, uses clapping as percussion, which instantly gets the crowd going. She smiles as she sings the romantic but playful ballad.
In just the first two songs her band showcases a jazz standard with a fat bass. Her first track was an infectious groove, a little like something Little Dragon might do. Then she flips it to an Afro-jazz groove with her isiXhosa lyrics instantly affecting the room.
There’s something old in parts of the instrumentation, almost shebeen queen-era like but with that fresh vibrancy of neo-soul.
Be Careful is a song about unconditional love and how limitless the possibilities of this idea truly are. These are usually notions I would laugh at but I buy every word coming out of her mouth as she explains to the room before delicately quavering this slow churning song.
Ndikhethe Wena is a funky head bop she penned in 2017. Faku says this was the most emotionally draining song to create but it yields a choral-like response from the crowd. She raises her hands as the crowd sings the chorus. Her body sways as her band and the audience harmonise melodiously.
She ponders again about the love of her life on Wami and how it would be great to meet him. The drum drives this song with a loud throaty sound that governs the direction of this captivating movement. Inde Lendlela is the summit of her sound on this album.
Nelson Mandela may have endured a long walk to freedom but the journey towards real love is fraught with as many perils. Her voice is almost deep but this just makes this song all the more chilling. Nathi’s Nomvula comes to mind as the guitar strings become more prominent with the progression of the song.
The title track is also no joke. Blaq Diamond joins her on this song and the trio use traditional gospel stylings to paint a picture of struggle, financial difficulties and pain as maskandi-like guitars lick the speakers daintily.
I enjoy Ebhayi, an ode to Port Elizabeth and her family. This slow song uses a nostalgic instrumental to frame Faku’s grounded vocals.
She doesn’t hit the highest of high notes but it works perfectly. Her voice is odd but in the most pleasurable way possible. One need only see the crowd she attracts to understand where she could take her sound. An impeccable debut offering.