Aniyaa cover design by @Kreative_Salad
Humble Bakari’s release Aniyaa (2023) is one that draws blackout curtains on your mind’s eye compelling it to turn inward. There are no musical flourishes here, it is a spartan effort propelled mostly by the strumming of an acoustic guitar that Moosa Adam Manik (KJ)’s vocals use as a springboard to soar into sublime heights and plunge into fathomless depths.
The overall sound recalls those trips to the islands with musical friends soon after an emotional calamity – heartbreak, loss – and sitting on the beach with guitars, no fire, nothing to warm up a core that is fast freezing in the cruel wind from the sea.
There is a reason for the choice of tone. The album commemorates their friend Shiaau Mohamed Saeed, herself a fellow musician whose life was brutally extinguished in Male in 2022.
The opener Mohoru sets the stage for what is to follow with tumbling percussion giving way to plucked guitar and a lonely, weeping string. We find KJ reflecting on a conversation, but when his partner opens their mouth, KJ says it is as though a nail is being hammered into his brain. No, the metaphors are not refined (Humble Bakari does not even try) and the imagery worsens.
The ballad Vai Kolhu introduces a moody melodica that recurs on several other tracks. The song brings to fore KJ’s powerful voice, which does not fail to captivate. Not even when he twists the simple act of blowing on your body after a ritual prayer (entrusting yourself to the Lord’s care) into having your chest skewered by that very breath you had hoped would keep you safe.
Elsewhere, Simenthi Ganduvaru touches on our Male-bound existence, life within the towering concrete blocks that house its populace. Yes, it is forlorn and resigned, yet while it speaks of a prison-like manner of living, it seems to be the lightest track here, displaying no less than a glimmer of affection for the land of the band’s birth.
On Kendigen, a track of narcotic slowness, KJ’s vocals float over gentle piano chords and guitar arpeggios. The spotlight is on his voice and delivery. And KJ rises to the occasion with a depth of feeling that seems even more marked here. It is full of anguish, confusion, and yearning, exploding with fervour towards the song’s end.
Meanwhile, the beautiful opening of Thari with its strings and cascading chords belies the darkness at its centre. An obvious allusion to the tragedy at the heart of this album, it expresses disbelief at the magnitude of evil in our midst.
And in the seemingly cheerful rhythm and higher tempo of the titular song Aniyaa is the deceased’s voice. Early in the song, KJ states point blank that there is no joy to be had in this life and that the only light appears from the white shroud of death. Perhaps it is the hope of reunion that colours his sentiment.
Aniyaa is a serious album in the that it deals with heavy, unsettling, unwelcome themes, and their effects on the human soul. It is pain cloaked in music. This release reminds me of the outrage, despair and naked aggression found on another (metal) album – 1998’s Soulfly. It was also a work born out of loss, the death of Sepultura frontman’s stepson. Not easy listening, and (hopefully) not something that you will need to revisit very often. And while Aniyaa may not provide solace or comfort, it might offer something better – a promise of companionship in your darkest hours.