Toronto’s rising star Amaal has released her highly anticipated debut EP under Universal Music Canada/Public Records – and it’s an absolute triumph. The Somali-Canadian R&B songstress is evolving gloriously before our eyes, and with the release of “Black Dove”, she details her nuanced plight towards black womanhood as the impetus for discovering a new artistic freedom – one that isn’t hinged on societal or cultural expectations. It’s honest, minimal R&B with an elegant and poetic flair, jam-packed with mantras that move to canonize her personal experiences with love. The timely release of the six-track-strong “Black Dove” has cemented Amaal’s place alongside the new-wave of women re-claiming R&B music, to elucidate the contemporary adversities associated with the misunderstandings of modern femininity.
Opening with a delicate mellotron melody, “Let Go” coaxes us towards a deeper understanding of Amaal’s erudite approach to matters of the heart. As the track’s grounding, reverberating bass synths juxtapose her refined falsetto in the verses, the songstress croons to her lover to let his guard down, singing “it’s okay to feel naked/I’m not going to judge you”. On the song’s uplifting chorus, the singer unleashes her utterly enchanting breathy vocals as she scats the repeated sentiment “you should just let go”, with sparkling piano trills embellishing every second bar of the sparse – yet riveting – instrumental accompaniment. It’s clear right away that Amaal’s impressive raw vocal is the centerpiece to this record and her most valuable tool in translating the complex emotional messages inherent of this auditory momento.
With the following track “Not What I Thought”, comes the EP’s first cutting revelation: as Amaal outlines – in reference to the first track – that no matter how vulnerable she chooses to be with her lover, his failure to reciprocate in opening-up, resolvedly ends in a miscommunication of intention. Ultimately, he leaves her with nothing but bittersweet disappointment – a relatable story. As the songstresses heavily synthesized vocal melodies amalgamated with a walking kick-drum form the prevalent harmonic accompaniment for the track, she relents “and maybe it took a mistake/to see you were always this way”. Continuing the infectious chorus with her characteristic scatting as she admits that the relationship was “not what I thought it was”, but rather turned out to be – as she poetically outlines in her very first verse – “another flame in the dust”.
Next up, on the jazzy “So What”, we are taken through Amaal’s emancipation from unrequited love to the tune of an upbeat bass guitar melody in the verses, before the song explodes into a dynamic and glittering arrangement in the chorus, where Amaal’s vocal tenacity is given a chance to shine in all its glory. In the pre-chorus she light-heartedly exclaims “so what, I loved you/ so what, I tried/ I gave you everything/ and now my love is running dry”, continuing with choral accompaniment in the hook,- audibly increasingly self-assured – singing “I’m sorry to say this/I don’t wanna save it/I just wanna fly away” . All the while, keeping in her sights the conceptual framework of the record, in building a narrative for herself that sees her deconstructing her emotions in hope of building herself back up, stronger and growingly confident with regards to her true worth. It’s a liberating listen to, say the least!
On “Later”, a stand-out track based around the autobiographical account of Amaal’s past travels –going behind her parents back to visit an incarcerated ex-lover – the artist reminisces about how “breaking her own rules”, led to a cycle of compromise that didn’t serve her best interests. Singing further about her youthful naivety in believing that if she placed all her energy in loving her man “then”, he would have reciprocated her love “later”, a sentiment that turned out to be a mere hopeful fallacy. Complete with an enthralling sustained chord progression, bolstered by heart-wrenching, hip-hop leaning 808’s, it serves as the record’s second beautiful mediation on reciprocation, as Amaal’s trades in her trilling falsettos for an increasingly somber vocal tonality as she sings the captivating chorus: “If I love you now, you’ll love me later/If I wait it out, you’ll love me, right?/Later/If I hold us down, you’ll change your behavior/So I’ll wait it out, and you’ll love me, right?/Later”.
“Later” seamlessly blends into “Coming & Going”, as we hear the pitched-down vocals used in the post-chorus of the latter track re-appear, beckoning the audience to take flight once more with Amaal as she reclaims her sexuality on her own terms (‘Cause you wrap it around me when I’m indecisive/and I’ll start deciding if I let you like it’). On the Black Dove’s penultimate track, Amaal is spreading her wings in search of a new kind of love, one that allows her to come and go as she pleases – to find freedom at last. Over the experimental, chopped’n’skrewed R’n’B of producer Kristopher Riddick-Tynes, Amaal’s trademark falsetto flutters through the chorus as she playfully intones “am I coming? Going? Coming? Going, gone/am I giving what you wanted? Getting on”.
Amaal blossoms into her new-found sensuality by the culmination of the record, as she positions her unapologetic sexuality as an act of protest on “Scream”. Riddick-Tynes continues to chop’n’skrew’ the minimal R&B; however, on this track he progressively bolsters the instrumentation with whirring synths, syncopated 808’s and echoing modulated vocal melodies over which, Amaal asserts “nobody gon‘ tell me what to do when it comes to you/ just because they scared doesn’t mean we scared too”, continuing in the hook to tell her lover to “scream my name like a protest” – it becomes crystal clear that the overarching message of “Black Dove” is grounded in illuminating a black woman’s never-ending fight for love and acceptance. Yet, Amaal’s poetic vulnerability drives forward the message that only once a woman has taken the leap to cultivate self-love, can she then demand unwaveringly to be loved by others.
On this glorious record, Amaal takes on the epithet of the black dove as a symbol of hope. Inviting us to follow her on an awe-inspiring journey as she sheds all ego and spreads her wings in search of self-acceptance. Along the way, the poetic songstress deconstructs her own truths, achieving a plethora of personal revelations with regards to love and reciprocation. Strikingly beautiful by nature, and audibly sublime “Black Dove” is not to be missed!