Rhythmic blues from london: kanye west is not king

L. A. Salami, the young singer-songwriter from London, has it going on. His new album "The Cause of Doubt & a Reason to Have Faith" shows that.

As a couch potato, you can also lounge creatively, like L.A. Salami Photo: Diane Sagnier

The city as a source of friction, this is a theme one encounters in contemporary pop, especially in hip-hop and grime – genres, in other words, that are aptly subsumed under "urban." The first musical love of Lookman Adekunle Salami, alias L. A. Salami, however, was Bob Dylan. An unusual preference for a young Londoner with Nigerian roots. Now Salami’s third album "The Cause of Doubt & a Reason to Have Faith" is released, great wandering stream-of-consciousness folk; everyday vignettes that not least also work off life in the city – a rather unconventional perspective in the singer-songwriter genre.

By the way, his previous album "The City of Bootmakers" (2018) was recorded in Berlin. In the laconic track "Brick Lane," Salami looked with self-irony at the caravan that first moved from east London to the southeast of the city and, when life there also became too expensive, set up shop in Berlin-Neukolln.

"For me, cities are like characters in a novel that I communicate with," the Brit explains in a Skype interview. Salami attributes this detached view to the fact that he grew up between worlds. The now 30-year-old spent his first seven years in a foster family in the idyllic coastal town of Broadstairs "with lots of siblings and surrounded by animals."

Then his birth mother brought him back to the then rather rough London borough of Peckham. "At first it was a shock, a completely different world. My cousin was murdered on the street, I didn’t dare go into many corners. On the other hand, I soon met good people in London and fell in love with the city. But as exciting as I find it here, it also always makes me feel like I’m tied to the front of a moving car."

L.A. Salami: "The Cause of Doubt & a Reason to Have Faith" (Sunday Best Recordings/Rough Trade).

When Salami began releasing his music in 2013, he had a detailed plan to get the songs that had long been on his mind – "my emotional and poetic biography," as he calls the project – out to people; he reportedly had five full albums in the pipeline. Most recently, the EP "Self-Portrait in Sound" was released in February of this year.

His interest in the introspective navel-gazing that idea sounded like has since been exhausted – which is good for his songwriting. The sonic palette on the new album is broader, the lyrics more enigmatic. And with every listen there is something new to discover: trip hop hints, dripping ambient surfaces, bizarre chains of associations. And again and again his idiosyncratic drive, which manifests itself sometimes singing, sometimes rapping.

Monologue in a robe

Thematically, he explains, he was primarily concerned with the relationship between the individual and the collective when working on the new album. By the latter, he means above all the narratives with which people search for meaning. "Traditionally, that was religion. But humans only invented gods because we are so magically inclined. And now we’re looking for new community-building ideas."

The centerpiece of the album is the minimalist orchestrated, meandering track "When You Play God (The 2018 Copyright Blues)." In laconic word cascades it says, among other things: "Maybe Kanye West is insane …But maybe he’s not always wrong … / But if you wanna play it safe / And keep out of the view of the monster / It’s best to just play along …" To which of West’s often narcissistic ideas is Salami referring? That the hip-hop superstar briefly cozied up to Donald Trump, but then backed away from him? That he’s now flirting with a presidential run himself? Ultimately, Salami says, it’s about the role we ascribe to celebrities.

"Kanye West is not Martin Luther King. He’s just a guy with an opinion and a million followers. Why some ascribe to him a role that someone like King would have filled in the past is another story. And even though this whole ‘Make America Great Again’ stuff is bullshit, there’s obviously a lot of people who feel that way. Somehow you have to get into a conversation with them; maybe that’s what he’s trying to do."

What follows is a sprawling monologue in which Salami declares that he feels more comfortable with the ideological constructs of the Western world than with anything the rest has to offer. Or something like that. It’s not entirely easy to follow him. "I am rambling …I am rambling," he notes. Indeed. Perhaps it’s the herbal cigarettes he consumes while sitting in front of the computer in his robe. But at least in the context of his compositions, his many open flanks and digressions certainly seem fresh and stimulating.

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