Released: 13th September 2019
Devendra Banhart’s new album, Ma, is his first since 2016’s Ape in Pink Marble. Bursting with tender, autobiographical vignettes, Ma displays a shift from the sonic experimentation of his previous albums to an intricate, captivating story-telling and emotional intimacy. Banhart favours organic sounds to accompany his voice and guitar, the arrangements bolstered by strings, woodwinds, brass, and keyboards. He also debuts a fantastical, surrealistic video for the first single, ‘Kantori Ongaku’, which translates from Japanese to “country music” and is a nod to experimental pop legend Haruomi Hosono, a founding member of the influential electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra.
The simply titled Ma is Devendra Banhart’s third album for Nonesuch, one that addresses — often in a beguilingly oblique way — the unconditional nature of maternal love, the desire to nurture, the passing down of wisdom, the longing to establish the relationship of mother to child, and the consequences of that bond being broken. Banhart doesn’t approach the album’s maternal theme in a literal way; rather, by contemplating it, alluding to it, regarding the concept of motherhood from different angles, he has fashioned an album of multiple, intertwining narratives. Its concerns are both personal and global, with subtly autobiographical looks at life and death and ruminations about the precarious state of the world. The many light-hearted moments of Ma are balanced by deeply melancholic, even sombre ones. Three tracks are in Spanish, the language that is as much Banhart’s native tongue as English, and one in Portuguese.
Banhart, who spent his childhood in Venezuela, has been profoundly affected by the poverty and despair he’s witnessed there. His concern over the dire situation in his motherland drew him back to the Spanish language: “My brother is in Venezuela, my cousins, my aunts and uncles. They are just holding their breath, in gridlock standstill. There’s this helplessness. This place that has been a mother to you, that you’re a mother to as well, and it’s suffering so much. There is nothing you can do but send out love and remain in that sorrowful state.”