At one point on “Francis,” a song on the Brooklyn-based vocalist and poet YATTA’s second album WAHALA, a loop of the ubiquitous ice cream truck jingle pops up. Depending on your mood, it will either stir idyllic childhood memories or set your teeth on edge. YATTA excels at inspiring these kinds of polarizing emotions on WAHALA, whose title translates from Krio into “a state of worry, trouble, a terrible mess.” Short lines of improvised poetry and fragmented phrases are manipulated with a loop pedal and sent swimming across the ambient backing tracks. Over all of this, YATTA grapples with depression, anxiety, and identity, and ultimately tries to convince themselves of the near-impossible—to just buck up and be happy. When the album ends after 30 minutes, it’s like you’ve been listening to the therapy session going on inside someone else’s head. The experience is both harrowing and strangely cleansing.
WAHALA is dominated by YATTA’s voice—or, rather, YATTA’s voices. Armed with a toy box of digital tricks, their vocals are pitched up or down to represent various parts of their personality competing for space in the same psyche. Deeper, distorted tones represent the dark side; a child-like lilt hints at optimism. Loops and glitches applied to these words become part of the project’s metronome: On opener “A Lie”—which begins with the advice “Hey, don’t let yourself ruin/Run the show!”—the latter part of the word “survive” is repeatedly triggered to conjure a sense of rhythm.
This experimental production gives WAHALA an undulating texture that’s complemented by YATTA’s own fluid voice. On “Cowboys,” which adds wavering guitar to the hazy mix, YATTA sings “Cowboys are black/And techno is too,” and layers the sentiment with a demonic, guttural voice proclaiming “Artsy black girls are like Pokemon/Gotta catch ‘em all.” These juxtaposed fragments land like slogans from an unearthed Basquiat painting—they’re a cue for your mind to wander off into the imagery.
A quote from YATTA accompanying WAHALA explains that the album is inspired by “being black, being trans, and being African on foreign land,” along with psychosis and depression, rage and pain, tension and confusion, and the cyclical nature of these intermingling factors. But the music and the message don’t play out in a tidy linear unpacking; these facets cannot be dealt with one at a time under the auspice of the increasingly commercialized concept of self-care. The soul of WAHALA is about accepting that all these different feelings can be felt at once. YATTA inches towards this realization on the album’s concluding song, “Underwater, Now.” Set to a soothing, submerged choral backdrop, YATTA throws off the processing effects and speaks in their natural voice, expressing something we can all relate to: “All I know is that it all fucking hurts.”