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Nathalie Joachim
Ki Moun Ou Ye Jeremy Allen , February 13th, 2024 09:12

Grammy-nominated composer puts down her flute and picks up a sampler for a patchwork album of experimental pop and digital collage

When the Juilliard-trained flautist Nathalie Joachim started writing rhythmic avant-pop songs, she described it as her “reverse Andre 3000” moment. Joachim had excelled at the flute from the age of 10 when she’d begun attending the conservatory, though as she developed as an artist, the Brooklynite was hungry to discover more about her ancestry and bring elements of the person she was discovering into her music.

Her 2019 album Fanm d’Ayiti, recorded with Chicago’s Spektral Quartet, was in the running for Best World Music Album at the 2020 Grammys, and while that category is almost as meaningless and impossible to fathom as the byzantine awards themselves, it does at least indicate a step into a different league. Fanm d’Ayiti means “women of Haiti” in creole and was largely inspired by her grandmother as well as three under-acknowledged female Haitian musicians: Carole Demesmin, Toto Bissainthe and Emerante De Pradines.

Joachim’s late grandmother returns on her latest album Ki Moun Ou Ye, which means ‘who are you?’ in Haitian, although – according to the singer – it can just as easily mean ‘Whose people are you?’ or ‘Who owned these pieces of you before you were born?’ Her late grandmother (who she still has many songs and spoken word recordings of) continued to inhabit her thoughts as she was writing the first song ‘Kenbe m’. She can be heard laughing and singing amongst the strings, bringing an uncanny quality to a song that swoops and swirls elegantly, where the emotional and the digital sit uneasily together.

The interpretation of the title, ‘Who owned these pieces of you before you were born?’ is pertinent to this record too. Ki Moun Ou Ye is made from the building blocks of Joachim’s life and creativity, as she sampled her own musical off-cuts from tracks that never quite made it, and then reassembled tiny pieces together in meticulous sound collages. Vocals and instrumental passages are developed into synth-like textures, creating a far more cohesive sounding record than the method suggests. These fragments knitted together make up the DNA of a collection that dives deeper still into her identity.

The title track revels in the fragments, where digital glitch, broken beats and splashes of truncated flute churn together while Joachim’s powerful voice provides the thread that binds together a glorious tapestry. Again, it sounds complicated, but to hear ‘Ki Moun Ou Ye’ is to witness one of the more awesome experimental pop tracks of the year so far. In contrast to the more hectic numbers, ‘Kouti Yo’ floats meditatively downstream on an elegant raft built from flutes and violins.

Ki Moun Ou Ye is an album that startles the senses, and coming in Nonesuch’s 60th anniversary year, it’s indicative of a label that continues to grow and adapt and stay relevant. May Nathalie Joachim’s reverse Andre 3000 trajectory continue to bring blessings while hopefully sidestepping any Jimi: All Is by My Side equivalents.