Fountain Baby is an outstanding album with a deep track-list that contains gems for a wide variety of listeners…
By Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku
Ama Serwah Genfi (professionally known as Amaarae) is a Ghanaian singer singer-songwriter. She was born in the United States and was raised between Atlanta and Accra, Ghana. She wrote her first song at 13, and drew influences from both worlds of her upbringing. The mixtapes began coming while she was still in high school, and by 17, she had gained work experience in a music studio. Her solo career kicked off in earnest in 2017 when she released her debut project, Passionfruit Summers, after a return to Ghana.
In the years that followed, she carved out her own niche in the Nigerian and Ghanaian industries, propelled by her unique vocal presence and her iconic style. In 2020, Amaarae released her debut album, The Angel You Don’t Know, to positive critical and commercial responses. The pinnacle of this was the runaway success of the Kali Uchis-assisted remix to “Sad Girlz Luv Money” which made waves on social media and charted on the US Billboard Hot 100. This garnered her worldwide attention and accelerated her international stardom and appeal, and focusing new eyes on her. There were questions about what she would do next.
Three years later, those eyes now have another album to feast on. Fountain Baby comes on the back of a number of big singles, videos, big features, and notable public appearances. The album, released through Interscope Records, plants Amaarae firmly as a burgeoning international superstar.
Right off the bat, it has to be said that Fountain Baby is a fantastic album. It is a showcase of Amaarae’s chameleonic flexibility; a product of diverse influences and exceptional song-writing skill. The musical success of this album can also be attributed to the assembly of a stellar production team and a high level of team-wide focus and intention.
At first listen, the songs themselves seem like they can be bracketed into two rough classes; Afrobeats Amaarae and Everything Else. However, subsequent listens reveal how blurred the genre lines are, as the stylistic elements are never completely separate. There are the songs that lean towards the Afrobeats spectrum, such as “Big Steppa” with its simple guitar foundations, brass accompaniment, rattling triplet shakers, Afrobeat drums, and rich traditional percussions; “Reckless & Sweet” which features drum-heavy composition, percussive 808 drums, filtered plucked chords, strummed guitars, and warm basslines; “Wasted Eyes” and its prominent Afroswing drums, simple filtered chords, and sporadic percussive elements; “Aquamarie Luvs Ecstasy” which has smooth pad chords, sparse Afrobeat drums, pulsing bassline, and expressive saxophone accents; and “Water From Wine,” sporting energetic drums, sparkling keys, rolling 808 fills, and clacking percussions.
Over these beats, Amaarae comes with the appropriate deliveries, typically relying on shorter phrases with subdued melodies. The clever production means that very few songs fall into genre cliches, with unique stylistic elements that Amaarae can build on to bestow each track with a solid sonic identity. The grand sweeping chorus of “Reckless & Sweet” contrasts beautifully against the rapid-fire falsetto she delivers. The intro of “Wasted Eyes” lends the song an Asian character that reflects in the slides Amaarae employs in the melodies. The gunshot effects and sturdy brass sections lend the song a burly chorus that compliments the thematic stubbornness portrayed in the song’s lyrics.
Then we have the songs on the opposite side of the spectrum; those that draw on other genres and put Amaarae in the position to show that she understands music across the board. “All My Love” introduces the album with a gorgeous cinematic soundscape filled with emotive strings and ghostly background vocalisations before bleeding into the energetic “Angels in Tibet” which maintains the heartfelt string core but now backs it with bombastic brass stabs and uptempo Brasiliera Reggaeton drums. Amaarae’s delivery rises and falls in franticness as the instrumental evolves. “Counterfeit” takes us in a completely different direction and is a hard-hitting hip-hop track with fast-paced layered drumline syncopation worthy of The Neptunes (unsurprisingly, Pharrell Williams is a credited writer) set alongside East Asian tablas, sitar-like plucks, and a general Indian melodic slant. Amaarae brings her rap credence to this track, rap-singing with appropriate braggadocio about money and women.
We see a new dimension on “Sex, Violence, Suicide,” taking us to a drumless emotive landscape built on rich strummed reverbed guitars. As the listener gets sucked in, the song explodes into a punk rock segment, complete with the defiant lyrics and flattened mixing to mimic the sonics of older rock microphones and amps. “Sociopathic Dance Queen” takes us to a coastal Pop soundscape, where her sensual persona escapes to a whirlwind tryst atop Rock ‘n’ Roll drums, chugging bass guitars, and psychedelic glittery keys. “Come Home to God” closes the album on a similar note, albeit at a slower tempo. This song would be at home on the radio on the way to a Southern Californian beach in the 90s. The sonic atmosphere is captured perfectly in everything from the wailing guitars to the summery group vocals chanting “And she want it, want it.”
Finally, we have the songs that straddle the middle line, sitting on the cusp of typical Afrobeats but threatening to leave it behind in pursuit of something new. I would place pre-release single, “Co-Star,” here. The drums are unique variations of Afrobeats syncopations, with a greater emphasis on kick drums than the typical snares or percussions, but the pattern reveals itself in the chorus, especially when accompanied by the rolling log drums. “Princess Going Digital” comes from that Alté Hyperpop Afrobeats vein popularised by its producer Tochi Bedford for the likes of Cruel Santino. The off-kilter drums, thumping 808s and synth chord patterns are expertly handled by Amaarae, and the Maesu’s accompanying vocals as they converse and navigate the proverbial streets. “Disguise” just squeezes into this middle-ground category. Its drums are Afrobeats enough, but the overall composition feels too grand and ornate with its staccato strings, sweeping violins, phasing pads and wailing synths. Amaarae’s chosen melodies here are fittingly epic, adapting her typical clipped phrases with melodies that utilise her full vocal range.
Fountain Baby is an outstanding album with a deep track-list that contains gems for a wide variety of listeners. Each listen-through brought a different song to the fore of my attention. The initial standout of this album is just how layered and intentional the production is. A multitude of influences, styles, sounds, and ideas are constantly being seamlessly melded into cohesive wholes that shift and evolve from within and between songs. There are breaks and breakdowns, switches and switch-ups, complete 180s and pauses for interludes. Yet the production flows smoothly through it all, providing energy, rhythm, and environments for emotion all at once.
All this progressive production would have been for nought if Amaarae was not this adept at marrying her delivery to the instrumentals she is working with. While Amaarae has a very distinctive airy and wispy voice, the things she does with it are much less singular; from rapid-fire rapping over “Counterfeit,” to grungy rocking out on “Sex, Violence, Suicide.” Between the breathy, subdued Country singer vocals on “Come Home to God,” and the labyrinthine falsettos on “Reckless & Sweet,” it seems that there might be no delivery she cannot pull off. Her vocal range is surprisingly broad, her sense of timing and rhythm is deceptively advanced, and her understanding of melody is rivalled by very few.
Her team ties it all together with sublime engineering. The incredible accomplishment here is the adaptability of the engineering as well. Each song is tailored to achieve a singular expression. The rock segments come across the way they would have on any typical rock project; the Afrobeats strike the ears as Afrobeats should with the emphasis on vocals and drums; orchestral elements feel full and rich; each track is coming across communicating the intentions in their totality. There are a few moments where the mix quality slips and there is some wonkiness to be found, but those are few and far between across a 14-track album.
An unsung aspect of Amaarae’s expertise is her song-writing. It is easy to get caught up in how she sings, and forget to highlight what she sings. There is a camouflaged depth and bite to Amaarae’s song-writing, giving her the ability to play around with the darker themes of money, sex, drugs, and love, without it coming across as heavy or contemplative. She playfully dances through songs without saying too much but still painting vivid pictures of a hedonistic lifestyle that may be hiding other things. You don’t think too much about it because her sugary vocals carry you through the song on the wave, keeping you from diving too far beneath the surface
At the end of the day, Fountain Baby exceeded my expectations, and they were already quite lofty. Amaarae continues to position herself as a solid contender to be amongst the ranks of the coming contingent of international African superstars. She exudes massive crossover appeal in every aspect of her brand, and I can’t wait to see what heights await her as she continues along this trajectory.
Lyricism – 1.5
Tracklisting – 1.7
Sound Engineering – 1.7
Vocalisation – 1.6
Listening Experience – 1.7
Rating – 8.2/10
Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media.