Home Read Albums Of The Week: Desire Marea | On The Romance Of Being

Albums Of The Week: Desire Marea | On The Romance Of Being

Prepare to be swept off your feet by the seductive, sophisticated and stylish sonics of the South African singer-songwriter's stunning and sui generis sophomore full-length.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:Desire Marea’s voice is a culmination of many South African 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-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. “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 (2020) traversed electronic genres in an introspective exploration of modern love and loss. In contrast, the new album was recorded live with an ensemble of 13 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 winners 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.

Marea introduced the album with the 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.

Photo by Tatenda Chidora.

“One of my heroes, Marlon Riggs, said ‘Black men loving black men is THE revolutionary act’,” says Marea. “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.”

Expressions of being through eroticism are prevalent throughout Desire Marea’s work. He notes the erotic as a lifeforce beyond traditional reproductive notions: “The spirit likes to touch itself, it does so through other people, the spirit experiences itself through the erotic.” Lyrically the album reflects on notions of truth, romance, sexuality, seduction and connection to nature through a kaleidoscopic spiritual lens.

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. On The Romance Of Being is an epic journey of its own, as Marea traverses 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.”



Photo by Tatenda Chidora.