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Desire Marea’s voice is a culmination of many voices; a mouthpiece for a choir of spirits and entities. His second album On the Romance of Being is immersed in the communal, ceremonial and healing qualities of music.

 

Throughout the last two years, the Amandawe (South Africa) based artist trained as Sangoma, a traditional Nguni spiritual healer. Becoming sangoma is not vocational, one must be called on by spirit. It is for one’s own spirit to die and become a vessel for others. This connection to spirits and ancestors is one that encapsulates the knowledge of the universe and redresses spiritual imbalances on the living plane.

 

Today, Desire Marea shares a first glimpse at the new album with new single ‘Be Free’, a track where he subtly judges a former lover on his inability to accept himself. The song journeys from tense percussive jazz to a gospel-esque swell of horns and synth, representative of the lovers’ stubbornness and yearning to be free.

"‘Be Free’ is a love story about two black men loving each other through the crisis of masculinity."

Speaking on the track, Desire Marea comments:

 

“One of my heroes, Marlon Riggs, said “Black men loving black men is THE revolutionary act”. ‘Be Free’ is a love story about two black men loving each other through the crisis of masculinity. It’s set in South Africa’s hypermasculine world of taxi gangs, one of the many places where gay men exist often under a layer of oppression that’s in addition to the homophobic violence of the world at large. It was important for me to tell this story because love, even under such conditions, is always a story worth telling. And freedom is always something worth fighting for. I am grateful to the team and to Imraan for the passion, care and nuance he gave to this story.”

 

The video’s director Imraan Christian adds:

 

“When Desire reached out to me about creating a film together, I was overjoyed as I’ve always found his work to be at the forefront of creativity. He told me about the story he had written and it resonated with me deeply as I’ve lost a loved one recently to the struggles of addiction and love. There was something universal in Desire’s writing and my intention was then to bring a strong emotional and cinematic approach to making the film.”

 

Watch the music video for ‘Be Free’:

play video

“In my work as a sangoma, ancient songs and drumming sequences are used to invoke spirits who live in me so I enter into a trance state. In my work as a musician, I heal people using music. It’s a different kind of medicine but one in which I often have to channel different spirits, different truths and the essence of light.”  

 

Desire’s solo eponymous debut traversed electronic genres in an introspective exploration of modern love and loss. In contrast, the new album was recorded live with an ensemble of thirteen musicians, many songs being first take:

 

“My ancestors gave me an instruction to record this with a live band. The reasoning? It was a way to ensure that the music carried the soul. We were all united in the most intimate parts of our consciousness. The music made us one.”

 

The band includes award winning Sibusiso Mashiloane and Sbu Zondi, pioneers of the Durban/Joburg jazz scene, as well as Portia Sibiya, Andrei Van Wyk and Sanele Ngubane, prominent actors in South Africa’s experimental music circles. The union of these souls birthed eight movements that sonically sprawl post-gospel, spiritual jazz and the ancient music of the Nguni and Ndau peoples. 

Athi-Patra Ruga, the artist behind the album’s artwork, embodies eroticism as a lifeforce in the oil piece. The artwork was influenced by Rotimi Fani Kayode who defined African queerness through his photography, the leathers of actor Bobby Blake and 19th century Xhosa prophetess uNongqawuse, whose visions arose amidst Strelitzia (crane flowers). Ruga comments:

 

“The erotics of his intellect are evident in how we are beckoned to “levitate”, stripping old skin and entering new bodies and plains. This access point is what led me to celebrate this transition. I wanted to be of service to document the processes they went through in their ukuvuma (admission) and also the seductive instructions that are in the lyrics.”

 

Prior to his solo output, Desire formed a part of beloved Joburg collective FAKA, who toured the world extensively, including appearances at the 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art; Unsound Festival (PL); Roskilde (DK); Sonar (ES); and Dark Mofo (AU). They made their American debut scoring for the brand Telfar at NYFW, and achieved icon status by partnering with Versace to soundtrack their S/S 2019 menswear show. FAKA were also included in Vogue World 100 and Dazed 100 lists. 

 

On the Romance of Being is an epoch, as Desire Marea journeys through a multiplicity of identities and elicits a sincere conversation between the erotic and spiritual. Reflecting on his latest work, ultimately his truth as a vessel, Desire states “every grain in a sandstorm is a moving mountain”

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