ZIMBABWE: Ammartia - Ammara Brown
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
Informally labelled as Zimbabwe's "Queen of Pop", Brown earns her crown on this magnificent debut attempt
In my first forays into adulthood, I fell deeply in love. I was drawn in by her colour, her energy, the sense of liberty that she transmitted and the feeling of endless possibility caused even by just thinking about her. She became my second home as I was completely carefree in her presence; I’d often catch myself daydreaming about her when I wasn’t with her and would speak with childlike excitement to friends about the prospect of seeing her again soon. Despite being the perfect partner-in-crime for me to revel with, there was one thing that she did that would often let me down, but I would keep going back to her in the hope that she would do something different. I am even slightly ashamed to say that there was a time in my life where I facilitated my week around her despite her blindingly obvious fault. This love I am talking about is of course the nightclub dancefloor…
“Ammartia helped me to realise that I am not too long in the tooth to head back to the nightclub dancefloor to enjoy the type of tunes that the Tik-Tok generation might be more familiar with, but rather I merely must keep my ears peeled for high-quality dance pop music like this.”
I must apologise if you were lured in by what might have seemed like a confessional piece about a former lover, however, in some ways this is. Like for many young people the nightclub became almost a spiritual home, luring with me in with its bright lights, cheap booze and the like-minded pursuit of hedonism that I shared with the rest of its patrons regardless of its location. As the initial novelty of getting black out drunk and trying my luck to find a potential suitor to accompany me home for the night wore off, the nightclub experience became far more about having fun with my friends and throwing shapes until the early hours of the morning. With this in mind, the music that was played out from the DJ booth would start to be of more importance to me. I truly love dancing and as I became more discerning with the tequila-induced haze starting to fade, I found myself feeling frustrated that the music being played so often made it difficult for me to fully let loose and be at one with the sounds booming out of the speakers.
The nightclub experience was almost perfect and yet each night I was out I found myself paying closer attention to what seemed to be the ever-decreasing quality of the selection of generic charts music that the DJ would play to appeal to the masses. I started to seek out specific nights that would play music that was anything but what was on the charts, with what I would describe as a quasi-celestial experience the first time I heard David Bowie’s Let’s Dance in a night club environment. Was I getting old? Was I out of touch? Was I trying to hold onto a youthful experience that only was vaguely accessible to me under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol? For a long time, I thought the answers to these questions was 100%, reluctantly accepting that I had become a fuddy-duddy unable to let loose and enjoy the music the rest of the crowds were rejoicing in. Then came along Ammara Brown’s debut album Ammartia.
The Zimbabwean singer’s album is one of the first we have featured on the site as an ‘Album of the Week’ that has not earned this designation by means of being an artistic masterpiece. Rather, Ammartia, gains the title partially for its incredible number of bangers but more so than that is an album that proves to me that each genre of music, has its own merits and when done correctly can be stunning – this fact extends to charts-style music. Though it’s a record that I would say is broadly split into two halves, both in terms of quality and style, Ammartia is for the most part a dance-pop album that I would challenge any DJ to argue that the generic popular music of the day is better than. Ammartia helped me to realise that I am not too long in the tooth to head back to the nightclub dancefloor to enjoy the type of tunes that the Tik-Tok generation might be more familiar with, but rather I merely must keep my ears peeled for high-quality dance pop music like this.
However, the difference between what Brown offers to these overly-polished, autotuned stars (you know the kind of names I am talking about) is a sense of authenticity that they can never attain as they are held by the shackles of their mainstream record producers. That is not to say that Brown has not put thought and consideration into her work, far from it, but rather her voice and her lyrics feel like they come from her soul. Though Brown has something unique about her, she reminds me a lot of Rihanna. One of the things that the pair have in common is that even though both have an obvious mainstream pop sensibility, they seem to have maintained a great deal of creative control on their albums. There is something immensely empowering about Brown’s music and it is difficult to place my finger on what it is.
Brown herself comes from a musical family, as the daughter of Andy Brown an accomplished musician in both Zimbabwe and South Africa where he joined the group We Three. This meant that Brown had a taste of another country’s music culture and thus was exposed to some of world’s best jazz music which can be heard as an obvious influence on the album despite its overtly poppy nature. This makes the inclusion of Hugh Masekela all the more special on the album as he pops up on two of the tracks. Tawina and Next Lifetime. The fact that Brown’s vocals in some senses overshadow Masekela’s involvement on those songs is a huge compliment to her. The first of these tracks, Tawina, is one of a series of phenomenal tunes. After just one listen, I was already enamoured by the bangers that start from Da Nile all the way until what is probably my favourite song on the album Akiliz. Songs like Havarare and Mukako exemplify everything that is great about Brown’s vivacious jams, whilst Wachu Want shows off the Brown clan to be an immensely talented bunch as she is joined by her younger sister Chengeto who brings so much to make the song a real bop.
Meanwhile, Brown’s softer side is still to be appreciated. The aforementioned Next Lifetime is a fitting dedication to her sister Chiedza Brown who sadly took her life a few years before the album’s release, with Brown demonstrating an immense vocal range and real talent on the mbira which she started honing her skills on as a child. Her sense of indebtedness for the lessons learnt from those passed in her family seems to really inform her music, as heard on the deeply soulful Ode To Mama. However, the gratitude she has for those passed isn’t the only token of appreciation that she puts on display. The final track Glow in the Dark serves almost as a thanks for those who have seen Brown for who she really is and are able to see past her fame. This therefore seems to be a dedication to her fans known as Ammartians which I can well and truly declare myself to be. Overall, this album is beyond a success. Brown proves herself to be an incredible popstar with hidden depths that even though I don’t necessarily enjoy as much as when she is in her element of creating dance hits I can still admire as she clearly does things on her own terms whilst valuing those who have supported her in doing so. Long may it continue!