“What are we afraid of? Only everything.” In an age of political tension, an ever-growing need for racial reconciliation, and the global exploitation of individuals for commercial gain, Asumaya isn’t afraid to get confrontational – though it’s usually conveyed with a bit of sarcasm and wit as opposed to a direct aggression. The lyrics above, taken from “Only Everything”, give listeners a taste of the thematic focus of Omniphobic; the album tackles themes of racism, xenophobia, hyper-nationalism, and related subjects.
Asumaya, the Madison-based project of Luke Bassuener, has managed to carve out a unique sonic space: living looping, bass guitar, electronic percussion, drums, mbira, and layered vocals all coalesce into a sound that is part dub, part world music, and part drum and bass. True to many live looping projects, the instrumentation is fairly consistent with what listeners can expect live. His newest album released July 13, 2018.
Omniphobic is the proper follow-up to 2015’s The Euphemist, and it continues to highlight Bassuener’s poetic aptitude and progressive song structures. Omniphobic’s lyrics borrow from Bassuener’s experiences as a Peace Corp member in Ghana and his work with students as an art teacher. This international and intercultural perspective is the heart and soul of Asumaya’s music, and it’s a constant across Omniphobic’s ten songs.
“If History Has a Direction” opens the album with pulsing bass and reverberating drums. Bassuener’s vocals are gossamer and float over the instrumental foundation. There’s a strong R&B vibe here as additional vocal parts are layered. The track diverges from this sound a bit toward the end when Bassuener adds his signature mbira into the mix.
The aforementioned “Only Everything” is a stand-out track, showcasing a full sound than its predecessor coupled with stronger dynamics.
“Outsider” embraces world music influences, while lyrically tackling the issues of nationalism and pride. It’s a fairly percussive track, with a jarring rhythmic core which further augments the lyrical concepts and overall mood of the song.
In fact, it’s arguable that Omniphobic truly thrives off its percussive nature and rhythmic sensibility – melodies are certainly strong as well, but they’re primarily centered on the mbira. Most of the instrumentation in place lives in “the pocket”, and this certainly isn’t a bad thing. The instrumental “Amnesty” is a great example of this, though there are plenty of other spots on the album (like “The Strength and the Storms”) where this truly shines through.
“Give em what they want before they know they want it,” Bassuener sings on “A Hunger Made Up”, a jab at consumerist culture. It’s another instance of lyrical directness, paired with chant-like vocal delivery. It’s a well-rounded track that leads abruptly into the dynamic “Chess”.
“Chess” is yet another standout track, with an incredible balance between instrumentation and vocals. As you might expect by now, it’s percussive – clapping and auxiliary percussion are in full force here. The track continues to build and add layers along the way, and it’s a great glance into Asumaya’s live experience.
Omniphobic comes to a strong close with the pairing of “The Strength and the Storms” and “The Rights of Right Now”, which, apart from being incredibly compelling tracks, take a positive perspective in the midst of strife, focusing on the importance of community and the importance of moving past a culture of fear.
Ultimately, Omniphobic cements Asumaya as a much-needed voice in the musical community. Bassuener does not desire to simply entertain; he has something critical to say and his songs are laced with underlying calls-to-action. However, he places an equal amount of intentionality into his compositions, which results in a dynamic and percussive mix of cross-cultural influence. Omniphobic certainly deserves a listen – if not for its artistry, at least for what it has to say.
Find Asumaya at the links below: