Space Afrika’s ‘Honest Labour’ is a quietly complex interrogation into the postcolonial Black British identity

In Magazine, Reviews by Editor

Image: Dias

When approaching Space Afrika’s latest album and first for label Dais, it’s necessary to understand that this work is informed foremost by the complexities of displacement and Black British diasporic identity. But then Space Afrika have always focalised their work on these sorts of convolutions, arriving at genrefluid iterations of their influences that largely use them to the effect of their mission statement. In other words, their work can be challenging. You might discern touches of grime or jungle, but their ocean of glitches and sweeps of sound are never quite distinct. Rather it’s formulated in a sense to displace you, weaving a cerebral sonic tapestry that throws you into spaces of cognition by way of its disorientation. It’s what Joshua Inyang and Joshua Tarelle pulled off with last year’s hybtwibt? mixtape, created in response to the wave of anti-racist protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. Not so much music more so than collage, hybtwibt? clashed together sound bites of everyday life with recordings of protests and passages of melodic abstraction, existing in a sort of space between ambience and immersive chaos. 

Honest Labour exists in a similar space. The album’s nomenclature is as layered as the music itself, stemming from a patriarch on Inyang’s Nigerian family tree whose loyalty and resilience earned him the moniker “Honest Labour ” while also alluding to Space Afrika’s approach to their craft. It is a sprawling collection of abstract frequencies and skewed interludes designed to call into question the meaning of being human, or more specifically, what it means to be different kinds of human in a world designed to separate us. As such, the music on this album shifts faces through sounds and motifs that somehow transcend our lines of division, earthly noises and industrial menace that feel at once familiar but are made alien, interrogated in ways that push to challenge your perception of what you are hearing. Early on, Indigo Grit shifts from the ethereal siren song of an unnamed guest vocalist against shimmering chords and rolls of thunder, before switching channels to a recorded conversation between two people interrogating the meaning of love. It pulls you into the scene, structured to keep your attention as you wait for an answer. And then it ends, leaving you at the precipice with nothing more than your own summations. Preparing The Perfect Response takes shape as a monologue soundtracked by a tense, modulating string phase, a snapshot of a moment that we can all connect to; finding the words to do something that may destroy someone, but will liberate you. These are nestled between shifting soundscapes, patchworks tailored of lo-fi string whines as those on LV or stuttering trip-hop mutations as with NY Interlude, which work by building the disarming and scattered atmosphere within which Honest Labour operates.

Download ‘Honest Labour’ here

Honest Labour’s second act settles into more distinct modes, moving from the snapshot realism and ambient abstraction of its interludes toward tracks like B£E and Girl Scout Cookies. But even then, it never settles and subsequently, neither do you. The eerie lullaby of Bianca Scout’s voice on Girl Scout Cookies is interrupted at times by chaotic breaks of static and record voices, followed shortly after by Ladybird Drone which changes shape every few bars during the track’s first act. B£E sits as a sort of statement piece; a trip-hop leaning rap track that features Manchster’s Blackhaine stating the facts, “Man are trynna get rich at the top of the map.” As it moves through its steely, clattering percussion, strings begin to swell toward the track’s denouement in urgent shades of melancholia. Throughout Honest Labour, this melancholia or rather, disquiet, ebbs. It thrums in the strings that swell throughout, and it washes over the album’s more isolated moments. The experience of this album is akin to Godfrey Reggio’s epic Koyaanisqatsi, a tone poem of sorts that moves through vignettes of life and existence, tying threads that comment on the state of our being and the state of our Black British identity in an attempt to search for the humanity in all of this. Devastating and entirely challenging, Honest Labour is a record that demands to be heard but perhaps not quite understood. And that may actually be the point; to allow ourselves to get lost in the sounds of the life around us, and to listen.

Watch the music video for B£E, directed by Rawtape, below

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