Desire Marea’s ‘On the Romance of Being’ is an instant soul-deep classic
There’s a strong devotional compulsion in Marea’s artistry, one that runs soul deep. His new album is the kind of instant-classic accomplishment that arises when an artist’s emotional narrative coheres with the purposeful craftsmanship of other artists in a fertile synergy.
On 13 May 2023, Desire Marea held a live concert at The Market theatre in Newtown, Johannesburg, to launch his latest album On the Romance of Being. Alas, influenza kept this writer from attending the event (thrown with the distinguished partnership of Jägermeister SA), but Marea’s captivating and immersive new work turned out to be excellent for home listening as well.
Marketers and journalists have split popular music into an endlessly confounding web of hyperspecific subgenres, but these classifications become more arbitrary and less useful when faced with the work of an artist whose tastes and interests are as wide-ranging, or whose technique is as liberal, or whose sense of identity is as open as Marea’s. Even the term ‘experimental’ is frustratingly inadequate. Isn’t the nature of artistic creation such that any risk taken by every sincere artist is an experiment?
On the Romance of Being was recorded with a 13-player band of jazz musicians (whereas Marea’s debut album, Desire, was a mostly solo digital creation), and each instrument is introduced beguilingly on the first track “Ezulwini”. A keyboard plays a repeated shimmering motif, accompanied by soft cymbal rolls and beats, while Marea intones his evocative lyric: “I wanna see you levitate.” Brass swells join and enrich the harmony beneath, then quiet down to prepare for a driving electric guitar and distorted bass entrance, which add to the force of his incantation.
Training as a sangoma
After the release of Desire, Marea spent two years training as a sangoma. Unwashed as I am, I don’t know how much of traditional rites are brought into this work, but, as an eager listener, this writer can still discern a strong devotional compulsion in Marea’s artistry, one that runs soul deep. On the Romance of Being is the kind of instant-classic accomplishment that arises when an artist’s emotional narrative coheres with the purposeful craftsmanship of other artists, in a fertile synergy.
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Marea’s integrated vision and idiosyncratic approach, connected as it is to his reverence for local traditions, may remind ardent music lovers of that genius Icelander Björk. Her liberated musical sensibility is reflected in Marea’s ambling vocals, unfettered by the bonds of rhythm and metre, and his singular decision to forgo pitch correction. Where her voice explores new realms of experience in sound, his crawls seductively and holds onto the spaces between scale degrees, like a warm, lithe lover. Marea enriches his album’s erotic glow with a life-worn, tender intimacy and warm self-assurance. DM
On the Romance of Being is streaming and available for purchase on BandCamp.