Track by Track: Malaika Mfalme takes us through their incredible debut album Yasmin

Malaika Mfalme

Today, Tanzanian/Australian trans/non-binary artist Malaika Mfalme released Yasmin, their stunning, intimate, and deeply personal debut album.

The album pays homage to the loss of their partner, Yasmin, and beautifully chronicles the range of emotions that were felt during the grieving process. There is a gentle intimacy, a warm embrace, as Malaika details the struggles and experiences they felt due to the loss. There is no road map for grief; every journey is different, and Malaika skillfully navigates this difficult territory. Anyone who has lost someone dear to them can listen to this record and find solace in it.

The musicianship and vocals draw you into the narrative. Malaika has a strong sense of social justice. Front and centre is the support for the LGBTQIA+ community and also for QTBIPOC folk, femmes and other marginalised communities. Respect for our First Nations peoples is also a fundamental charter. The opening track, “Acknowledge”, is a reminder that the ‘welcome to country’ shouldn’t just be a matter of ‘ticking a box’.

“Mother” has an upbeat acoustic dance vibe, as Malaika sings of the joy that eventually came after the pain and grief. A sweet spot at the end is the soundbite of their grandmother, who lives in Tanzania, singing their bedtime ‘good night’ song.

“Imagine” is a standout – it is delicate and moving. From the sadness, comes joy in remembering the good times. It’s not always easy, but this song faces the grief head-on with good grace.

The closing title track is beautiful and poignant. Malaika writes of the track – “I knew I had to write a song just for her. Yasmin was an Opera singer, and I was able to incorporate all of her friends in the song. All of us singing together was such an important healing process for all of us. The first verse is about the pain of her passing, the second is about letting her go, and the last is about remembering her”.

In Yasmin, Malaika has grappled with heartbreaking loss and walked an emotional tightrope to share this with listeners in an inclusive and healing manner. Grief can be such a personal hardship, and this is beautifully articulated.

Malaika will perform a one-off intimate launch show at Red Rattler Theatre in Eora/Sydney on Friday, December 14, to celebrate the record’s release.  You can purchase tickets HERE.

Malaika has penned a track-by-track breakdown of the record for the AU. So do pres <Play>, read on and listen to this beautiful and moving record.

Malaika Mfalme – Yasmin – Track by Track

I hadn’t planned an album; I was creating music to try to heal and cope with the profound loss of my partner, Yasmin. I had been experimenting with an EBEEBE guitar tuning and I fell in love with it and began writing a collection of songs that would evolve into the heartfelt testament named after her. I began writing these works in 2020 during the lockdowns in my share house in Glebe.

Almost every song incorporates a looping station, I did this because I wanted to be able to create a larger sound since I couldn’t work with a band at the time. I’ve also drawn huge inspiration from African call-and-response music that often utilises repetition as a means of wading through pain. I am drawn to the belief that, for the listener, each repeated lyric undergoes a transformative process, changing and evolving in meaning over time.

The album begins with “Acknowledge”, a poignant ode challenging the perfunctory nature of land acknowledgments, urging us to genuinely reflect on the stolen land we stand upon. Living in so-called Australia, daily acknowledgments of the country are made, often treated as routine. I wanted to ensure it held deeper significance—recognising the stolen land we stand on, honouring its history, and acknowledging the ongoing struggles faced by the indigenous people. The song serves as a reminder to take the time to appreciate the land we inhabit.

“Mother” emanates from a peaceful moment in nature, celebrating the undying love of Mother Nature. I wrote it one day in the park after feeling the effects of writer’s block. I wanted to write about joy intertwined with spiritual connection. In my ever-changing upbringing, closeness to nature felt consistent. I use the lyric “Mother take me home” to describe this feeling. I wrote this piece as an ode to Mother and a will to find peace. It’s a homage to finding solace in her embrace, a comforting haven transcending borders and continents. Perhaps one of my favourite aspects of the song is at the very end; it cuts to a voice note of my Bibi (grandmother) in her home in Tanzania singing to us, essentially saying goodnight. We clap for her and wish her a good night. I wanted to permeate my Bibi in this track and thank her for all the wisdom she’s imparted, especially the gift of music she passed down to me.

“Dream” delves into the realm of dreams, offering a poignant exploration of conversing with lost loved ones in the ethereal space between sleep and wakefulness. It was the first song written in the EBBEEBE tuning, incorporating percussive guitar elements. I wrote this song in the middle of the night after waking up from talking to Yasmin in a dream. She was wearing a pearl flapper dress and a white feather boa. She told me about this adventurous wondrous life she lives in the clouds, and I told her what I’d been doing on Earth, though she already knew, she humoured me. When I woke up, it felt so real, I felt the need to permeate that conversation and describe the disillusion of waking up without her.

“Spirit” delves into the mourning process, pondering the destination of departed spirits and questioning, “Where has your spirit gone?”. The minimalistic repetition in this track becomes a powerful vessel for introspection, evolving in meaning with each rendition.

“Imagine” is a call to embrace the transformative power of pain and find healing in shared remembrance. This was the first song I ever wrote on my loop station. Some of my favorite lyrics are in the second verse, where I start to imagine what we would do together if she was here. “I’d kneel next to you at rallies and howl at festivals, go skinny dipping in summer, dance while cooking our dinner.”

These are all things that we did together so often, so blissfully, so joyfully that it makes me smile and reminisce about the times that we had together.

I believe it’s a powerful moment in grief when you can, and I believe when I perform this song live, I ask my audience to share names with me—names of people they’ve lost. I find that they discover comfort and healing within that practice. Something this song aims to do is to alleviate the stigma that comes with grief and to accept and acknowledge that we are all changed forever by grief. You don’t have to go back to who you were and don’t know who you were. You don’t have to be well; the stigma of feeling pain is all of ours to bear, and it is socially acceptable to find pain within grief. It is socially acceptable to feel that pain, and I believe this song allows people to feel it. In fact, that’s what I desire out of it.

“Relief” follows “Imagine”, purposefully showcasing the joy that can come after the pain once you allow yourself to feel and move through it. During my grieving period, especially in those initial years, I felt that I was somehow unacceptable or unlovable because of the intense pain I was experiencing. However, I eventually found someone who loves me deeply in a way that I didn’t think would ever happen to me again. The song is about the relief that comes with being known and loved.

As humans, we understand how challenging it is to be known and loved, but when you can find that again, it’s almost like a rebirth.

“Good Man”, I wrote during a time of transition when I was beginning to come out as trans masculine and non-binary. I aimed to capture the feeling of wholesome love associated with masculinity, specifically highlighting transmasculine love. My intention was to depict a masculine person caring for and adoring black women, providing the love and treasuring that I believe they deserve but may not always receive within society, especially considering the often-toxic nature of masculinity.

Despite societal norms, I wanted to convey that this love is wonderful and pure. Loving someone deeply and intensely, normalising the soft and tender aspects of masculine love, became a central theme in the song.

I wrote it during a period of insecurity and self-doubt, questioning my identity as a man or nonbinary individual and wondering if I was good enough. Amidst these uncertainties, the main question became, “Am I a good man?”. In response to that question, I made a promise through the song: to be a good man for you. I promise that, although we may not be perfect, we can strive to do our best and be good enough.

“Younger”, my therapist asked me to write a letter to my younger self, expressing compassion for my inner child. Although I found it daunting and maybe even a bit cringe, I started writing this letter, which quickly became lyrics. The first lyric is, “If I met my younger self, I’d show you how to twist your hair.”

In black culture, imparting the knowledge of twists, roots, and kinky hair is incredibly significant. I felt somewhat disconnected from this cultural aspect when I wasn’t living in Africa. Doing my own hair and accessing that knowledge was challenging. The lyric comes from a place of caring for my younger self and my inner child.
The lyricism in the chorus is also an ode to the soul music I was raised on. My parents loved Old Soul, including artists like Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, and Nina Simone. Their voices inspired me to become the musician I am today. I often refer to this song as an ode to soul and an ode to my younger self.

The chorus is a mash-up of different songs, including ‘Ooh, Child’ by Nina Simone, ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley, ‘Don’t Worry About a Thing’ and ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ by Aretha Franklin, along with ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’ by Otis Redding.

These songs are powerful expressions of black joy encapsulated in the chorus. My favorite part of the song is after the second chorus, following the loop section. I transition into ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman’ by Aretha Franklin. Something that always brings a smile to my face is hearing the echoes of my fans and audience singing those lyrics back to me, as if I’m in my own home, recalling the joy of hearing that song for the first time as a young child.

The last song on the album, “Yasmin”, truly stands as my profession of love to her. It is my way of permeating her existence, just as the entire album does. One of my favourite aspects of this song is the backing vocals—gang vocals sung by friends of ours, particularly Yasmin’s friends, who are all musicians. I know she’d love it as she was an opera singer.

The song begins by reminiscing about what it was like to be with her and then delves into the pain of losing her. In the second verse, I pose a question that constantly occupies my thoughts, which I ponder nearly every day: “What about the things you knew?”

It revolves around the unasked questions, the conversations we never had, and the knowledge I assumed we would have time to share. As she was older than me, and now I’m older than her, I yearn to know the wisdom she would have acquired. I wish she could impart that wisdom upon me.

Thus, the verse echoes the question, “What about the things you knew?”

In the song’s last verse, I come to a resolution to let her go, a moment I found at my friend’s 30th birthday party. There, I encountered a woman who had a connection to the spiritual realm. I had written Yasmin’s name in chalk, and this woman identified it, initiating a conversation that seemed unfathomable. She conveyed messages from Yasmin, things only she would have known. At one point, a helium balloon moved in a way that defied physics, and I sensed Yasmin’s presence. The woman explained that I needed to let her go for her to move on, and the last verse encapsulates that moment: “Lover, have my heart, your spirit guides me, my guardian angel. Lover, have my heart, sing in the clouds and be free.”

It echoes the moment I let her go, knowing she never truly left me. She remains my guardian angel, guiding me through my day-to-day life. This song and the entire album are dedicated to her. Each track is a chapter, inviting listeners into the intimate moments that shaped this heartfelt tribute.

Yasmin is more than an album; it is a journey, a healing balm, and a celebration of love transcending life and death’s boundaries.

Yasmin from Malaika Mfalme is out now on all streaming platforms.

You can give Malaika Mfalme a follow on Facebook, Instagram and Spotify

Bruce Baker

Probably riding my bike, taking photos and/or at a gig. Insta: @bruce_a_baker