When the Dust Settles

When the Dust Settles

“It was time to dig deeper,” Yahael Camara Onono tells Apple Music. “This album is about telling Black stories of grief, joy, anger, and hope—showing that all of these emotions exist within us.” Bandleader of the sprawling West African percussion ensemble Balimaya Project, djembe player Onono emerged on the London music scene in 2021 with the release of his group’s debut album Wolo So. Combining jazz improvisation with the polyrhythmic energy of Mande music, the record defiantly celebrated its members’ musical heritage. Assembling 26 musicians for Balimaya Project’s second album, When the Dust Settles, Onono decided to imbue even more of himself into its 10 tracks. The result is a deeply moving mix of yearning balladry that tells the story of his firstborn son’s passing on “Suley’s Ablution” and the celebration of his older brother’s life on the orchestral “For Aziz,” while presenting an homage to the power of West African drumming traditions throughout. “It’s all a reflection of the band’s evolution,” Onono says. “The music is a result of the community we have built—the space we have for each other.” Read on for Onono’s in-depth thoughts on the album, as he guides us through it, track by track. “For Aziz” (feat. Afronaut Zu) “The opening track is a dedication to my older brother, Abdul Aziz Onyeamaechi Onono, who died when I was 11 while he was working as a UN peacekeeper in Nigeria. He was like a father figure to me and I was too young to fully understand the totality of his death when it happened. Since I’ve now had my own kids, I wanted to reckon with it. This song is a celebration of his life and an acceptance of his death. I’ve known Afronaut Zu for a long time, and I knew he would be perfect for this track—he has a shared understanding of my heritage and one of the most unique voices around.” “Anka Tulon” “‘Anka Tulon’ means ‘let’s play’ in Maninka. I arranged this track just after we had finished Wolo So as a tribute to the project’s status as a place for all of us to have fun. It’s an ode to Black spaces like barber shops or restaurants where we can feel safe and find community, since that’s what the band has also become. Musically, it’s rooted in wassoulou music from Mali, where the eight-string harp, the kamelengoni, is the main instrument.” “A Prayer for Our Parents” “The beautiful melody for this track was written by our guitarist Godwin Sonzi while we were on the bus traveling to a show in Wales. When we got to sound check, we started developing it right away. It’s all about the sacrifice our parents have made for us as immigrants and how they had to put their dreams aside in service to making sure us kids had the best lives we could. Our parents always pray for us, so we wanted to do something for them, to direct our love and admiration their way.” “Bé Mankan” “This title means ‘nothing is the same’ and it’s a phrase used to ascribe uniqueness. I wanted to dedicate this song to my mum, who is so special and unique, since she showed me the world and did so much she didn’t have to while raising me. The song itself is based on a traditional composition called ‘Alfa Yaya’ and it’s in celebration of how all humans are unique and have our special attributes that we can share with each other.” “Red Oil / Beyond Kingdom Come” (feat. Obongjayar) “Usually all of the Balimaya Project songs are planned and structured in advance, but this was the first time we’ve composed and recorded something entirely on the day in the studio. We wanted to give Obongjayar space to explore and he just smashed it. The track is so different from what we’ve done before. It’s erratic and spontaneous and can even be jarring. His voice is like a masquerade in our culture, which is when a person embodies the sound of a spirit from another world. He harks back to original spirituality, the place beyond kingdom come.” “When the Dust Settles” “When we say that we ‘raise the dust’ in our culture, it means we’re dancing. Our first album felt like raising the dust and whipping up that haze of energy. Now it has settled, this album is us stepping into our power as a group and addressing what is important to us—it is the aftermath of the frenzy. The record is me talking about the history and emotions that have made me who I am.” “There’s Nothing Left for Us Here” (feat. Fassara Sacko) “I was born in London but people always ask me, ‘Where do you come from?’ It’s a line that highlights my connection to West Africa and it always reminds me that, after Brexit and with the amount of racism that people have, what’s left for us here? What are people emigrating to this country for that they don’t already have back home? Fassara is a lesser-known Malian singer with such a powerful voice, who I grew up listening to, so I was really pleased to have him on this song. His lyrics reflect that message and talk about how we always have a home somewhere.” “Suley’s Ablution” “When I was 16, I had a son who died at 11 months old. I buried that grief and didn’t tell anyone about it until relatively recently. After having my first daughter, I started grieving properly and when my second was born, I realized I needed to talk about it. This song is me ritually washing off the weight that I carry over his death, even though I know the pain won’t leave. It has been cathartic to admit that I need support. The track also produced our first-ever music video, which beautifully explains the process.” “Golo Kan” “‘Golo Kan’ translates as ‘skin speech,’ and it’s a phrase I use to explain the process of hand drumming on the djembe—using your skin to communicate through the music. The track is stripped down to just djembe and dunun and it combines traditional rhythms celebrating the energy of the harvest, as well as a Malian dance rhythm. It’s all about welcoming something new while continuing with tradition and highlighting how, with this type of percussion, you can’t hide behind the orchestra—you have to be loud and sure.” “Seasons of Baraka” “I wanted to close the album on a note of recognition and gratitude for the journey we’ve been on as a group, as well as marking that this is only the beginning for us. I feel like there has been so much divine intervention in bringing us all together—that’s why this final track is named after the Islamic blessing power of Baraka, which has touched us all.”

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