Amaarae Is a Clever Alchemist on 'Fountain Baby'

BY A. HarmonyPublished Jun 8, 2023

In a 2020 interview with Pitchfork, Amaarae wondered whether African music was on the brink of global popularity, similar to how Sean Paul kept Jamaican dancehall in the spotlight for much of the early-2000s. Thanks to her latest effort, Fountain Baby, the Ghanaian-American artist no longer has to wonder about African music's impending domination — because she's helping to usher it in.  

That does not mean a straightforward Afrobeats album, though thanks to thumping percussion and breezy horns, West Africa's influence is ever-present on Fountain Baby. Instead, Amaarae blends an array of distinct, regional sounds to deliver what's best described as global pop. There's something here from every corner of the world and it all plays together nicely. 

A clever alchemist, Amaarae fuses Japanese folk, Spanish flamenco, rugged American rock and more to create a multilayered sound that's unlike any other album out. But though she pulls from many sources, Fountain Baby is still decidedly cohesive. No sound is wasted, nothing is arbitrary and Amaarae is strategic when fusing the koras, horns, steel pans and textured guitars that she plays with throughout the project. There is a line between experimental and nonsensical and Amaarae takes great care not to cross it. 

Though Fountain Baby's production is dense enough to stand alone, Amaarae's knack for sticky melodies and catchy one-liners (which shine brightest on songs like "Co-Star" or "Water from Wine") inject fun and familiarity throughout. "Princess Going Digital" has an infectious call-and-response quality perfect for festival stages and Amaarae embraces her inner surfer on "Sociopathic Dance Queen," a neo-beach rock track with high replay value.

"Sex, Violence, Suicide," broken into two distinct and opposing parts, condenses Amaarae's intentions for the album into one song. As it blooms from somber ballad to rousing, guitar-driven punk rock, Amaarae shouts a lyric that summarizes her entire approach to the music this time around: "I do what I want so I can get my way." She refuses to be boxed in by the limits of any one genre and everyone benefits from her musical agility.  

It's no surprise that Amaarae cites Missy Elliott, Madonna and Janet Jackson as being some of Fountain Baby's influences. Here, she joins them in stretching the definition of "popular" music. It's far more experimental than her last effort, but in a thoughtful way that makes for a refreshing listen.

Latest Coverage