Album Review: Aaradhna – Brown Girl (2016 LP)

In 2016, artists of colour have expectations placed on them from both sides of the political spectrum – those on the right would rather they stayed silent about their concerns, while oftentimes those on the left expect each artistic statement to be a political paean and call to arms. This is, of course, an unfair expectation that is never placed on white artists – we don’t sit around pondering why The Rolling Stones have been silent on the issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and yet people of colour in the music industry are expected to use the platform they’ve been given to be standard bearers for their people.

Aaradhna, the New Zealand artist, has had enough of all of the racial expectations placed on her. She doesn’t want to be seen as the “Brown Girl” of the album’s title track, reduced simply to “urban R&B”. On the track, she simply asks to be judged by the only standards that should be applied to her – as a “girl who likes to sing”. On her fourth album, Aaradhna more than proves herself by these standards.

After “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Brown Girl”, the opening tracks which call for the doing away of the expectations and definitions imposed on Aaradhna, we have “Empty Hall” – a breakup song. The lyrics of the song are a bleak portrayal of heartbreak, but the uptempo soul/jazz backing somewhat undercuts these sentiments, giving the song a sense of fortitude – Aaradhna is sad, but she hasn’t forgotten how to groove. The production on this song, as in the whole album, is very good – the musical palette is quite diverse, yet in each song Aaradhna’s voice is foregrounded, giving her words and her delivery the space they deserve.

Many of the songs on the album seem to be about the process of getting over a relationship, from the reggae influenced “Drunken Heart, Smokey Mind”, to album closer “Forever Love,” the album focuses itself almost entirely on matters of the heart, dissecting them from a variety of perspectives. Rather than being tiresome or cliched, the album is varied, even though it’s mostly about the same subject, and Aaradhna’s confident vocal delivery makes sure each song has its own personality. What emerges is a great pop album by a girl who not only likes to sing, but is pretty darn good at it.

Review Score: 8.2 out of 10.

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