On this solo record, the Eritrean vocalist proudly sings the songs of her people
We try to be as positive as possible on this site. I think, on some level, this is a by-product of having started this project in the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. In the ominous and unsettling first few months of lockdown in the UK, filled with the existential dread that dominated the public consciousness at the time, we both felt, on some level, there was enough unpleasantness around us, and that we did not need to add more to it by writing hatchet jobs on artists who just weren’t up to snuff. We do, however, have an internal quality control mechanism where we’ll only give an album up for review if at least one of us enjoyed the album. That does not mean we are overly hagiographic of albums that do not deserve it, and if we recommend the other person an album they ended up not liking, we would not just ignore it and pretend it did not need reviewing. What I think this, almost by accident really, forced us to do was to try and appreciate an album even when we may not have liked it much. And that is where I find myself with Faytinga. I do not like this album at all. I have listened to it several times, and I still find myself disliking it. And yet, through this process of having to listen back to it, there are things that I do appreciate about it.
“Since then, she has acted as a cultural ambassador, not only for Eritrea but also for the Kunama people.”
Released in 2000, Numey is the first widely available solo album by Dehab Faytinga (known professionally solely as Faytinga), an Eritrean singer of Kunama and Tigrinya ethnic heritage, and it is the former of those that guides the music which she sings. By the recording of this album, Faytinga was already a seasoned performer. As a teenager she joined the fight for Eritrea’s independence, and it was through these political connections she made along the way that she was first able to establish a Kunama radio programme. Soon after, she joined a Kunama cultural troupe, and eventually performed across Europe and Africa, where she was given the chance of recording Numey after a spot at the Africolor festival in France. On the album she plays the krar and sings in the Kunama language. Since then, she has acted as a cultural ambassador, not only for Eritrea but also for the Kunama people. All this context makes me interested to learn about her as a performer and about the folk music of her people and the wider region, but I stumble when listening to the album – I really do not like the sound of her voice.
I can just about bear it on the title track, which is the closest I get to enjoying this record, or perhaps even on Milomala, a song with an infectious drumbeat that is mostly instrumental with some vocal interludes. The music itself is quite nice, overall, and at moments I find myself enjoying myself, though soon, once again, I am distracted by her voice, and not in a good way. Faytinga clearly has achieved success, so some people out there must find her voice bearable to listen to, with it evoking within them emotions and a sense of power and beauty, but it does not do that for me. It is one of those things that neither she nor I can help; it is merely a question of taste. Perhaps with time my view on it will change, and indeed from my first listen to my third and fourth I have mellowed towards it and I can pick out moments I enjoy more than others, but on the whole, I simply have to conclude that the album is not my thing. It has its audience out there, but that audience does not include me.