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Finding our voices: An interview with Yatta

July 2019

Interdisciplinary artist Yatta shares an exclusive stream of their second album WAHALA and takes part in a Q&A with Stephanie Phillips

For New York based interdisciplinary artist, digipoet and musician Yatta, creation is a process that has taken them on a path of self-realisation. Beginning their love affair with music in high school performing jazz and cabaret, they started their current project in 2016 when they released the jazz-influenced avant garde album Spirit Said Yes!. Using looped pedal drones, snapshot field recordings, sampled vocals and improvised poetry, Yatta’s expansive compositions incubate a fevered, intimate world of their own making.

On second album WAHALA, released by PTP, we are invited to dive even deeper into Yatta’s universe as they explore their relationship to gender, their Sierra Leonean heritage and their voice.

Stephanie Phillips spoke to Yatta about why they struggle to listen to their own work, feeling embarrassed by your songs, and how Shania Twain's music helped them understand their own masculinity.

Stephanie Phillips: What made you start creating music as Yatta?

Yatta: I needed a way to process emotions. I was living alone, and making music and looping was my way of talking to myself. It started off as a way to keep myself company.

Has that way of working changed now?

I think so. I wasn't working from my brain at all in in the beginning. Now my brain has stepped in.

How has this affected you?

It's made it more gruelling. I’ve had to be more patient. When I first started I went completely from impulse and didn’t really sit with what I created for a long time but I think I wanted to think for longer with this release and I think that made it more gruelling and more of a process than a raw expression.

What did you find in the process of making this album?

I found that I don’t have as much control as I want over what needs to come out of me.

This record uses more distorted and manipulated voices then your first release. Was there a specific intention behind that use of the voice?

It’s a reflection of taking more time to create it. I did a lot of inner research about who those voices are and gave them personalities and traits and spent time with them. That allowed me to allow those different voices to be more prominent and to speak for themselves.

Who and what are those different voices?

Some of them were compartmentalised parts of myself that don’t really have a place in day to day life because of being afraid of what it would mean to let them. They’re people that protect me and guide me and teach me and embarrass me [laughs].

How do they embarrass you?

Just because it’s things that I’ve absorbed throughout my life but don’t say normally, so giving them a chance to speak up, it’s a little bit unpredictable.

I loved the song “Cowboys” and to me it seemed to reference the yeehaw agenda trend. Could you talk to me about the inspiration behind the song?

I guess I started relistening to Shania Twain in 2017 when I was starting to write this album and I think it was me reckoning with my own masculinity and wanting to find a way to occupy that space. While that was happening I started singing that line in shows and I would do a “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” cover. It came out of that time of searching for an alternative masculinity to occupy and that came with realising that I’m non-binary.

You said the album is about being black, trans and African in a foreign land. Could you say more about how that’s reflected in the album?

It’s hard to say what the album is about and it changes all the time. I feel like I won’t know for a while but I think it’s probably safer to say what the process was about. I guess the process was about reckoning with different parts of myself, my family’s displacement, coping mechanisms and how that relates to coping in general.

So did your family move to the United States?

They did but I feel somehow that it’s a tired narrative. That’s what is affecting me.

How so?

I’m wary about selling their story for meaning.

Is it not your story too?

I guess it is. I’m working through what part’s for me and what’s for them and how to be honest about that.

Do you feel your heritage is reflected into your work in any other ways?

A lot of what makes its way into my music are things and sounds I’ve heard, words I’ve heard from my family from parents, from friends.

Do you have an example of this in your music?

In “Blues” at the end there’s a part that says “Plaba cam, I run, I run O”, which means “When trouble come I run”.

How do you start working on songs?

Some of the songs started with poetry, like writing some of the weirder ones like “A Lie” and “Bliss” were poems. I recorded using my loop pedal and improvising the sounds and then taking those parts and composing them from there. A lot of my music is written live. I’ll have a line and perform it for a while and launch different beats and loops and practise the composition and then try and recreate it later on. I think because recording is definitely not where I start, it’s more the aftermath.

Were you influenced by anyone in particular during making of album?

I guess friends’ music. I get more influenced by people’s creative attitudes than the actual music. My friends’ bands Mallrat (NYC), Rachika S, D0UZE, L’Rain, Dreamcrusher, KVU and so many more.

It felt like the composition of the album reflected the themes of tension and splitting that you’ve previously spoken about. Was that intentional and were you thinking about those themes?

Only in so much in that it let me put the truth in there and not clean it up because its actually hard for me to listen to. It’s not very comfortable. Part of me wishes I could make music that’s easier to listen to but my brain just doesn’t really work that way.

What would music that’s easier to listen to sound like?

Repeatable and neuro-typical. Not as disturbing [laughs].

WAHALA is released on 2 August via PTP

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