Nathalie Joachim Ponders Identity on Vividly Sculpted Ki moun ou ye

Nathalie Joachim – Ki moun ou ye
(New Amsterdam/Nonesuch)

A swirl of questions opens Ki moun ou ye, the second solo album by Nathalie Joachim. “Whose names are these?” asks the adventurous Haitian-American singer, composer, flute player, and cultural activist. “Who once owned us?” “Where are they now?” 

These queries carry a sense of urgency, a need to know, the skittering electronic jabs they’re wrapped inside adding to the heightened charge. She’s asking her ancestors. She’s asking those who brought them from Africa, who enslaved them, who robbed them of their own names and identity. And in the album’s title and first words, she asks, in Haitian kreyòl, “Who are you?” Ultimately, she’s posing this to herself. Who is she? Whose lives are contained in her? Emotions shift through the album—sorrow, anger, pleading—and with them her vividly sculpted, genre-defiant music, from strings interlude “Fil” to the metallic clangs accompanying her somber, solo voice on “Kouti yo.”

Joachim’s artistry is rooted equally in Haiti, her Brooklyn upbringing, and classical training, echoing voices of those who came before. With 2019’s Fanm d’Ayiti, her Grammy World Music-nominated album, she used those voices, literally and profoundly, in songs built around recordings of Haitian women. One such voice reappears here—not with answers, but to reassure that she’s asking the right questions. 

“What pain is theirs, and what pain is mine?” Joachim sings during “Kenbe m,” her yearning accompanied by bells, rattlings, bleats, and even laughter. And then we hear her grandmother, who died in 2015, singing a kreyòl hymn that translates, roughly, as, “Thank you for holding my hand in yours.” – GRADE: A

You can check out Ki moun ou ye on Bandcamp and elsewhere.

New Amsterdam/Nonesuch

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