Born in Tehran and raised in Paris, the zouk-influenced dance-pop of singer/producer LAFAWNDAH evokes the deep, raw mysticism of the natural world. Her self-titled debut EP, self-released on May 6th and streaming in full here, is heavy with both an almost-fragrant sensuality and raw sexuality—check “Butter” in particular with it’s visceral chorus, Give me skin. It was recorded on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe with her producer friend Garagembanda towards the end of last year and teems with the sounds of the tropical undergrowth, including frantic frogs and swarming insects. This exclusive mix for The FADER provides an enticing glimpse into LAFAWNDAH’s world, from the haunted techno of Demdike Stare to the deep call of legendary reggae star Lady Saw. Plus there’s a brand new LAFAWNDAH track in there too. It’s a trip.
Describe your surroundings. I’m in a neglected backyard looking at a brick wall with construction workers on my left and on my right. They’re looking my way but I look like a tomboy so am not that interesting to them. I like the music they are playing: on my left En Vogue, on my right reggeaton. They are naturally blending. Live mix.
You recorded your EP in Guadeloupe. How did that shape the music? I think Emily [Garagembanda] and I had an idea about how we wanted the EP to sound and the narrative around it before we went there. I think what it did was that we let the site penetrate our music more than the site shaping it. We already knew the feelings we wanted to express, and the different kind of beats that were gonna lead to that. And we were just very attentive on how being there and how every little detail could inform our goal. We wanted the EP to be about the acknowledgement of coexistence of a multiplicity of worlds within the world, inhabited by various beings and entities (other life forms, spirits…). And so the site definitely gave us material and inspiration to nourish that idea. Emily calls that the tropical forces or energies (sun, storms, sea, centipedes, dolphins, frogs). Meeting Jean-Claude [Bachara, a famous zouk producer] was also definitely something that informed our music and allowed us to have intergenerational exchanges about music, which was so very precious and rare. I think one of the unexpected thing about this experience is how, despite the general idea of relaxed island life, the songs on the EP turned out to be anxious. There is some kind of emergency state. We were surprised by how paranoid it sounded. A little nightmarish in paradise or something. That’s definitely an experience that Guadeloupe offered us. We had to deal with stalkers and visitors and messengers. It definitely put us on an edge. We were both happy to leave after a month.
What was your first experience of music and when did you know it was your thing? I guess a compilation my parents had given me for my birthday with all the songs made in 1984. I got obsessed with “Smooth Operator”. It’s actually the only song from Sade I’ve known until very recently. And also a dance tape called DANCE 94, I was listening to Reel 2 Real’s “I Like to Move It” on repeat. I guess that’s how my taste for Best Ofs and compilations started. I’ve never been so much of an album person. Of course, there are certain albums that were and still are very important to me but my first experience of music was something pretty similar to the internet era where you just go from song to song. You want the best/easiest songs from everyone. I was really into putting on shows, since forever. That was my thing. With friends and family. Putting on clothes, come up with a choreography, dialogues, story lines. Having everyone sit and watch the result of that hard work. It wasn’t linked to singing but the performance aspect has always been my favorite thing and I wish I was as uninhibited as I was then. I was a much better performer then! Just going for it. So much confidence. So sure that what I was doing was dope and worth adult time. Singing, I think probably started cause my aunt was in a gospel choir and I was feeling the songs she was rehearsing at home a lot. She would teach me acappellas and we would sing duets. But I wasn’t a shower singer, I wasn’t singing all the time or obsessed with the idea of it. I was going to a special junior high school doing a half music, half studies program. I was playing flute. At 13, at the end of the year, we had to work on an end of the year show and I decided I didn’t want to play flute but cover [Jamiroquai's] “Virtual Insanity” (that’s right!) and put together a band to play the song with me. I was on stage in front of 300 people and it felt so very natural and amazing and comfortable. My mum came up to me after the show and literally was like, “I had no idea you could sing!” I said, me neither! I think that’s how I started feeling it might be a thing for me.
What’s the last book you read that had a big impact on you? My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola. It was major for me. It actually influenced the EP a lot and the main line in “TANGO DOWN” comes from it: I mistakenly smashed a small ghost while dancing too fiercely. It’s kind of a rite of passage story from the point of view of a seven years old boy lost in a world of ghosts. It’s very naive and so deep at the same time. It sounds like it could be for a kid but then the violence of it is so unbearable sometimes that I don’t think I would put that book into a kid’s hand. I loved the way the kid describes and experiences physical pain. He clearly has an S&M relationship to the world. And the style of writing is so particular. It’s an adult writing as a kid who is experiencing adult stuff while being a kid. I’ve never read anything that sounds like that. Also the relationship to time in the book is amazing. You can spend an entire week with the kid knowing every detail of every little thing and then jump 10 years later and then spend a day and then jump six months. The way it’s very anchored in reality in so many aspects, but then also is a nightmarish fantasy world…I could go on forever. READ IT!
What’s your favorite meal to make and how do you cook it? Mmmmh I thought and everyone around me thought I like to cook. Until I realized I really don’t cause it takes too much time and I am way too impatient. Also the level of French people cooking is so high than you need to be part of the game in a pretty serious way if you wanna be COOKING something. So my favorite meal is decomposed sushi. Rice, seaweed, avocado, can fish, cucumber, tomato and sesame seeds all mixed together in a big bowl. There is no cooking process. That’s why I love it so much. I mean, I could tell you about the 12-hour lamb shoulder recipe and be very French about it but it would be an uninteresting lie.
Massacooraman – “Conch Circuits”
Ghada Shbeir – “Mater Dolorosa”
DJ Rashad – “Reverb”
Kawai Kenji – “Utai I – Making of Cyborg (2.0 Ver)”
Lady Saw – “Nah Mix Nah Mingle”
Ace of Base – “All That She Wants” VS. Photek – “Ni Ten Ichi Ryu”
The Sabres of Paradise – “Theme 4″
Shabazz Palaces – “An Echo from the Hosts that Profess Infinitum”
Tartit – “Tihar Bayatin”
Roberto de Simone – ”Secondo Coro Delle Lavandaie”
LAFAWNDAH – “Tabotab” (singing over 2562 – “Jerash Hekwerken”)
Demdike Stare – “Hashshashin Chant”
Karen Carpenter Show – “Drums Are Not Suitable For A Young Lady”
*Thanks to Nick Weiss for precious help.