If you’re looking for a sound this summer that sets itself apart from the typical dribble of FM radio, you’d be hard pressed to find a more original and exciting artist than Yaa Yaa, a multi-talented eclectic singer/songwriter hailing from Ghana, whose new single Hey Yo is quickly lighting up the left side of the dial like nobody’s business.
Hey Yo is the second single from her sizzling debut album Ashanti Vibes, where alongside Fante Fante and Bakabri, Yaa Yaa asserts herself as the new voice – and face – of world music in the 21st century. I first got exposed to this enigmatic entertainer through her first single, Dumb Drum, a politically charged ballad drenched in wildly powerful guitar riffs and a marching beat. That song got me interested, and it’s safe to say now that Hey Yo has me addicted to her artistry.
Yaa Yaa might not fit as well into the traditional definition of “world music” as we know it today, but into a new genre that I’ve dubbed “universe music” instead. While world music as a genre has always been steeped in multicultural experimentalism that isn’t pinned down to one regional style over another, Hey Yo, at least to me, is so indulgently avant-garde in its framework and decidedly indebted to specific schools of free jazz, American R&B and even Europop, that the world itself seems a bit limiting to what its sonic power really encapsulates. Peter Gabriel dabbled in world music in the 1980’s. No offense to Peter, but Yaa Yaa is simply in a different class of artist.
This generation of musicians as a whole has no regard for borders or the invisible lines that separate rock from blues from jazz from noise. Branding innovators like Yaa Yaa “world music,” “experimental,” or the most overused label of all, “alternative” doesn’t cut it when it comes to grouping styles together anymore, and while that might make it more difficult for larger commercial interests to mass-market artists based on a trend, we as music enthusiasts have to ask if there’s really anything wrong with that? Art never really did have any boundaries, but in fact it’s been the corporate intrusion that has proliferated their existence. If you ask me, Yaa Yaa and her brethren shattering the very notion of categorization isn’t just a quantum leap forward for the industry, but it’s inspiring to the human race.
I highly recommend that anyone who wants to discover music that is genuinely different and rooted in the here and now check out Ashanti Vibes, and more specifically, Hey Yo the next time they’re browsing new records. Yaa Yaa is at the very beginning of her career, and in many ways is representative of a budding new era for pop music in general. I’m eager to witness what her aspirations will yield and how they’ll impact both African music and Western pop as well. Something tells me that much like the continent she calls home, her music holds countless untold treasures for us to unearth as we explore and get to know her identity as an artist as time goes by.
Download the project via iTunes.