Aya Nakamura delivers pure shots of intimate emotion on Aya | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Aya Nakamura delivers pure shots of intimate emotion on Aya



French-Malian singer Aya Nakamura expresses an effortless but firm candor in her lyrics (she sings in French) that’s cleanly mirrored in her music. Her breakout single, 2018’s “Djadja,” was a relentless kiss-off; its unwavering dancehall beat and bubbling synth percussion provided the perfect backdrop to Nakamura’s exhausted yet ferocious vocals. This synchronicity permeates her third LP, Aya (Warner). On opener “Plus Jamais” she sings, “I gave you my heart, I’ll never do it again,” then follows that confession with a spacious arrangement of pitch-shifted vocals, a soft synth wail, and a tumbling beat. On the forthright “Doudou” she calls out a lover while expressing a desire for more affection and honesty, and the song creates a fitting musical middle ground for exploring such mixed feelings: despite its shimmering steel-pan melodies and occasional burst of horn, it’s never quite boisterous. Fewer than half of the 15 tracks on Aya break the three-minute mark, and this brevity is crucial—it allows Nakamura’s emotions to come across undiluted, so that every song arrives like a pure shot of whatever feeling she’s eager to announce. Among the most potent is “Sentiments Grandissants,” where Nakamura sings amid gleefully fluttering arpeggiated percussion about the giddiness of having a crush. “Nirvana” is similarly sweet but more sensual; her voice drips with conviction and passion as the song’s nocturnal instrumental underlines her gratitude for her lover. Her previous album was titled Nakamura, and her choice of Aya here is fitting: it's still all about her, but this more intimate portrait helps you feel like you’re on a first-name basis.   v

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