Desire Marea's eclectic & ambitious solo debut album

Album cover photo by Professor Sir Zanele Muholi.
Album cover photo by Professor Sir Zanele Muholi.

Desire Marea has embarked on a solo music project that’s eclectic, ambitious and complex. Thabiso Hika reviews Marea’s eponymous debut album.

In December, Desire Marea announced on social media that they had embarked on a solo music project. The announcement was accompanied by the release of the music video of You Think I’m Horny, which is the leading single from Marea’s eponymous debut album. 

I was drawn to the artwork of the album, which is a black and white headshot of Marea in a satanesque motif, snapped by Professor Sir Zanele Muholi. With what look like horns protruding from the top of their head, Marea confronts the viewer with a blank, direct stare.

Marea is one half of the electronic music and performance art duo FAKA, whose introduction might be futile, but is definitely worth recalling when considering the amount of work and growth they have displayed as an artist outside of the FAKA collective. 

Their notable work as a solo artist includes being featured in Gabrielle Goliath’s immersive audio and visual installation This Song Is For… in which they collaborated with artists like Nonku Phiri and Dion Monti.

For almost a month following Marea’s announcement, I was haunted by their masterful vocal arrangement and teased by the dark purple hues of the music video, which depicts a drunken and alone Marea in the throws of a deep yearning for intimacy.

The video gave way to feelings reminiscent of those I experienced after watching Massive Attack’s Live With Me. Thecrescendo of the video has to be the sweaty and sensual dance number, choreographed by Bradley Sekiti. Is it sweat, or baby oil? I don’t know and, frankly, I didn’t care. I was captured by the elegant yet hypersexualised movement of the body. I was amped and excited for the release of the album on January 10.

Desire explores soundscapes unlike those that fans of FAKA would expect. It has contributions from artists such as Sanele Ngubane, Pasja Sneijder, Phiri, Hlasko, Simon Wolfson, Gabriel Wolfson and Gyre.

From the first track, Self Center, one is drawn into an eerie synth-techno and organ-laden stratosphere, providing a rather fitting prelude to the genesis that one is about to experience. I can only describe it as a snippet inspired by avant-garde Alice Coltrane, which appeases the listener. The techno-laced theme runs consistently through the entire album, with twists and turns where one would least expect.

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Zibuyile Izimakade is a good example of this very early on in the album. The track builds up like something one would hear in a Ministry of Sound-like atmosphere, only to break into an electro-infused tribal chant, instead of a hard staccato bass line as one would expect.

Tavern Kween adds a foot-tapping element, a sure win for the clubs, and is heavily drenched by Marea’s catchy harmonies. The guitar and horn solos are a little short-lived, which is a bit of a disappointment – they could have been explored further to add depth to the song.

Thokozani and The Void have a trance-inducing electro-improv quality about them, which might prove to be a bit of an acquired taste to some listeners. Uncle Kenny is a down-tempo groove that creeps up and grows on you, while Ntokozo poses as a rich and complex jazz standard.

The attempt is as ambitious as it is rewarding; the only drawback is the rather abrupt ending. The closing track features queer rapper Gyre, who undoubtedly brings his own zesty flavour to seal this body of work. The song is lengthy, just five seconds short of ten minutes. But very soon, it proves to be an epic tapestry, exploring themes of trauma and violence. I am once again met with Coltrane’s experimental avant-garde fusions. It’s terrifyingly powerful.

Desire is surprisingly eclectic and complex. And just as any debut album should be, it is ambitious in its attempt to carve out a new path for a newly solo artist, and it should hit the right notes with its intended audience. I hope there will be more accompanying visuals, to nudge the momentum that has already been gathered.

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In December, Desire Marea announced on social media that they had embarked on a solo music project. The announcement was accompanied by the release of the music video of You Think I’m Horny, which is the leading single from Marea’s eponymous debut album.

I was drawn to the artwork of the album, which is a black and white headshot of Marea in a satanesque motif, snapped by Professor Sir Zanele Muholi. With what look like horns protruding from the top of their head, Marea confronts the viewer with a blank, direct stare.

Marea is one half of the electronic music and performance art duo FAKA, whose introduction might be futile, but is definitely worth recalling when considering the amount of work and growth they have displayed as an artist outside of the FAKA collective.

Their notable work as a solo artist includes being featured in Gabrielle Goliath’s immersive audio and visual installation This Song Is For… in which they collaborated with artists like Nonku Phiri and Dion Monti.

For almost a month following Marea’s announcement, I was haunted by their masterful vocal arrangement and teased by the dark purple hues of the music video, which depicts a drunken and alone Marea in the throws of a deep yearning for intimacy.


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