“That’s the most innocent form of music, just taking from what’s around you and trying to make it work,” says Embaci about her inspiration during a live conversation on Google Hangout, just weeks before her upcoming European tour and performance at Wiener Festwochen in Vienna on May 26. The Brooklyn-based singer and songwriter began making music independently in middle school, using GarageBand in lieu of access to more formal production software. Following a series of self-produced tracks released on SoundCloud, Embaci came in contact with NON WORLDWIDE co-founder Chino Amobi and Elysia Crampton, performing live for the first time with the latter artist at a NON vs. NAAFI show in May last year. With a future network of global collaborators in New York for the event, an invitation to record bore Embaci’s debut mixtape EMBACI _ NON VS. NAAFI, stretching her vocals over production and remixes from zutzut, Nkisi, Amobi, Mya Gomez, Lechuga Zafiro and others.
The gamut of Embaci’s influences is cast wide, drawing from etymology, hexapoda, classical composition and jazz. This generates a sound with cosmic condition that is not possible to know on electronic music’s plane of orthodox harmonic schemas. On each listen of ‘ANGEL CALLING EMBACI (ANGEL-HO EDIT),’ one tries to make sense of how the tones and melees of her voice and lyricism make the heart palpitate until it arrives at fatigued unfeeling; the matrices forming anxieties turn to glass houses exploded by unfamiliar sirens. “I don’t know what you’re about,” she sings. Allow what is unknowable to form a new fitful pulse.
The organizing principles of machinic, contemporary electronic music are often ornamented with predictable sound-signals that create their own legible harmonies, refuting a potential to break apart the industrial smog that looms in the sky, negating the sunlight needed for collective growth. In The Wild Beyond: With and for the Undercommons Jack Halberstam writes, “in another world, harmony would sound incomprehensible. Listening to cacophony and noise tells us that there is a wild beyond to the structures we inhabit and that inhabit us.” Embaci’s music could be this wild, this out from the out — a generative unpredictability. Non-harmony exits current grammars and contexts allows for new languages, ideas, discussions. Taking flight from pre-dictated, ossified cues and signal-to-noise ratios, she throws a recycled signal out of its feedback loop and into disorder.
** You’ve mostly worked with the label NON WORLDWIDE, releasing your debut mixtape with both them and NAAFI. How did you come into contact with them?
Embaci: I was listening to the co-founders of NON individually for quite a while. I just knew them by their individual projects. So then I was like, ‘oh, there’s a collective!’ I wasn’t too sure what NON exactly was, and once it finally registered I was like, ‘this is so cool.’ After the Red Bull Music Academy event in May, we all teamed up at Red Bull Studios and that’s also how I got into contact with NAAFI. Those in my company have definitely contributed to my music. There is more percussion now. In the past I’ve worked a lot by myself but my first project being such a collective effort I definitely found to be enjoyable and something I want to continue in my work.
** The terms ‘non-sovereignty’ and ‘non-citizenry’ are mentioned a lot in writing about NON. Like, the non of NON. How are these conditions and signifiers meaningful to you?
E: Recently, I saw one of my favorite poets, Dionne Brand give a talk and at one point she said, ‘I write ‘against against tyranny and towards liberation’.’ I feel sonically NON does the same thing. It’s a creation of solidarity and unity through sound: a creation of higher power.
** You provided lyrics and vocals to Dasychira’s track ‘Vipera’ on his debut EP Immolated. Can you tell me about how this collaboration came to be, and how the idea of the female praying mantis served as an influence?
E: After the first two singles from the mixtape dropped, I would get things sent to me but I still wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do. Often times they were things sent by people who lived very far away. The thing is, I prefer working with people that I know. If I could, I would travel very far because many of the things I heard I loved but it can also be hard to work with someone who you’ve never met.
Adrian [Martens, aka Dasychira] was looking for a singer in New York and it was like, ‘yes! I feel like I wanna know what’s your favorite snack, what’s your personality?’ before I get to work with someone. He sent me two tracks (‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Vipera’) and I would listen to them every day for two months, playing them repeatedly till they became water.
It was the greatest day when we met, it was still warm out. I showed him this photo of a praying mantis that also had the lyrics I wrote written on it. I’ve always been very interested in insects. We discussed their life-cycle, specifically their mating tendencies. I knew the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to share the female praying mantis’ thought-process when she finds a mate because she must devour her lover after they make love. But it was also connected to the feeling of not being able to be in love because you know the destruction it can bring. It didn’t take us long to complete the song at all. Each session, our bond got stronger and I cherish having such a genius as my friend.
** How has being born and growing up in New York influenced your music and understanding of cultural production; its attendant positives and negatives?
E: Growing up in New York can be viewed as a blessing because I never felt too far away from anything. If I lived somewhere more remote, maybe I’d wake up some mornings and say to myself, ‘It’s a shame, if I lived in a city I would have the chance to do more’ but that’s never been the case for me. I’ve never experienced remoteness. I’ve always felt like, ‘I can do a lot here,’ and I’ve always had that mindset. I think many people here share that mindset as well. I wandered the city a lot on my own when I was younger and it’s contributed to why I’m really comfortable being alone and being with myself and being in my own way.
** Can you tell me about ‘The Great Disappointment,‘ which you performed in Berlin? I’m interested in how the title might pertain to the historical event of the same name, where this preacher William Miller had his followers turn against him after he promised the return of Christ to the Earth. Like, how the sounds, visuals and choreography might relate to this nebulous idea of faith in an incommunicable future or an entirely different world.
E: It’s definitely one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had so far. It was happening at a time that I really needed to get away from New York. The whole ensemble had never met till we were in Berlin , it was honestly all these people who had never met before putting on a show in less than a week. I knew the songs I wanted to sing and how they would contribute to the show so I knew from there all we had to do was start piecing our ideas together.
The whole show for me was emotional. I’ve been in productions before but never one where the whole cast was black. The show felt like a completely other world. At times cruel and demonic but also so innocent and sensitive. We all used what we had, and the result fills my heart. It was like we were construction workers building a tower but also one big hang out. It’s important to tell our own stories because the world thinks they know us better than we know ourselves.
Before arriving in Berlin, I did make the connection of the Berlin Conference in 1884, where European nations came together to discuss how they would claim territory, steal land in Africa. And here we were, this group of black people putting on this performance in the same city. The feeling of first realizing this is something I cannot put into words but it did make me realize how we needed to share a story that was our own. The last scene of the show, punk music plays and we all run around like we’ve completely lost our minds, rolling on the floor, grabbing each other, jumping on each other, pulling our hair, and screaming at the audience till we finally become still because our bodies are piled up. That scene is a part of the disappointment. The fact you can only watch us and not join. You must sit and watch us tell a story that is completely ours.**