Over the past two years or so, I’ve spilled a fair share of virtual ink covering the rising Amsterdam-born and-based Ghanian-Dutch singer/songwriter and multi-instrumetnalist Nana Adjoa. The Dutch-born JOVM mainstay can trace the origins of her music career to when she joined her first band as a teenager. At the time, she chose to play bass because “every other instrument had been claimed,” she recalls with a laugh. Unbeknownst to Adjoa, her mother had once played bass in a Ghanian Highlife band and still happened to have her guitar. Adjoa went on to the prestigious Amsterdam Conservatory, where she studied jazz — electric bass and double bass; however, she found the experience wasn’t what she imagined it to be. “It was very much like school,” she says in press notes. “We thought we wanted to go to the most difficult department, that we wanted to be the best, but it wasn’t a very fun experience.”
Interestingly, around the same time, Adjoa bean to experience a growing divide between the restrictive and theoretical compositions she was studying in school and the melodic, free-flowing music she’d play while jamming with friends, outside of school. She quickly realized that pursuing a solo career was the best direction for her, so she recruited local musicians and started recording her own material. Since the release of Down at the Root, Part 1 and its follow-up, Down at the Root, Part 2, Adjoa has developed a reputation for being a restless sonic explorer, who has crafted material centered around deft poeticism and an adventurous yet accessible sense of musicianship. Adjoa set out to write her full-length debut at the beginning of last year. Working in her own studio, she not only had the freedom to write and record songs nearly simultaneously, she had a wide palette of instruments at her disposal. The end result is her soon-to-be released full-length debut, the Wannes Salomé-produced Big Dreaming Ants, slated for a September 24, 2020 release.
Reportedly lush yet delicate, intimate yet expansive and moody yet hopeful, the album’s material is features a diverse array of multi-layered tonal textures — including thumb piano, vibraphone and a vintage harmonium along with guitar, bass, vocals, etc. Although Adjoa — who, typically plays guitar on stage — handled, the majority of the album’s instrumentation herself, the album features a collection of Amsterdam’s finest players collaborating with her, including the members of her live band: Mats Voshol (drums), Daniel van Loenen (trombone), Tim Schakel (guitar), Jonas Pap (strings) and Eelco Topper (vibraphone). Thematically, the album reveals a young artist poised to make a clear and concise artistic statement, in which she continues an ongoing search for identity while pondering life’s great philosophical questions. “For me,” she says, “music is a way to believe in something deeper.”
Throughout the past couple of months, I’ve written about three of Big Dreaming Ants’ singles: the shimmering, hook driven “Throw Stones,” which featured a narrator desperately trying to calm themself and their emotions in the face of internet trolls, digital clashes and the overall uncertainty of our world, trippy and expansive “No Room,” which featured elements of shoegaze, indie rock and Afro pop and “I Want to Change,” a delicate song that expressed a skittish yet hopeful view of change and evolution — both internally and externally.
Centered around a gorgeous arrangement featuring twinkling synths, brooding strings, strummed guitar, stuttering yet dramatic drumming, and Adjoa’s achingly tender vocals, “National Song,” Big Dreaming Ants’ fourth and latest single is a slow-burning, lullaby-like song with a narrator, struggling with having a sense of belonging in a cruel, morally bankrupt world that values some and not all, the dangers of tribalism and nationalism and more.
“I feel that neo-nationalism is occurring all over the world. Our ‘nations’ and borders are no longer what they once were because of so many different and rapid changes in what used to be our small worlds,” the Amsterdam-born and-based JOVM mainstay says of her latest single. “Growing pains of progress (I hope), which express themselves as a desire for conservative ideas rooted in a fear of change. Every occasion in which the old tradition of a national song is sung, it feels to me like a moment of doubt between the past and the future. It’s something I never used to think about twice and now makes me feel something different; there is something uneasy about it. The Dutch national song, ‘Het Wilhemus’, is one of the oldest national anthems. It has its own funny story to its heritage. Some countries don’t even have lyrics to the national anthem because there has already been a history of identity crises within the nation itself. Some countries do not have one, but two, national songs, and some aren’t in the native tongue. What is this feeling of belonging to one nation worth nowadays? Especially for people with mixed backgrounds like myself.”
Directed by Robbert Doelwijt, Jr. the recently released video for “National Song” features dancers dressed in traditional Ghanian school uniforms expressionistically dancing to the song while a denim-clad Adjoa is captured singing the song in gorgeous golden hour sunlight. While feeling like a fever dream, the video subtly pays homage to Adjoa’s heritage.