Lost Files is a column dedicated to celebrating older projects that might have flown under the radar when they were released. This week, Oluchukwu reviews Y'akoto's Mermaid Blues, a 10-track project which perfectly illustrates all the push and pull qualities of love.
Technological advancements, wars and uprisings, world cup tournaments, and TikTok. Despite the various changes and upheavals the world has been through, the need for love, companionship, affection, or whatever synonym it is known by has not disappeared or reduced in urgency. It is the subject of many conversations, books, paintings, and music.
For Ghanaian-German soul musician Y’akoto, love is the centre, the nucleus from which everything connects on Mermaid Blues, her third studio project. Released in 2017, it has no features and discusses a wide variety of subjects all connected by the thread of love. From rejection to toxic relationships and even the European refugee problem, Mermaid Blues is all about understanding and navigating love’s treacherous paths; if you are a Rick and Morty fan, then the album is all about the chemical reaction that compels animals to breed, hitting hard and fading slowly, leaving you in a stranded marriage – you get the point.
Now, a track-by-track review.
“Fool Me Once”
The album’s lead single examines the dynamics of a toxic and hurtful relationship. The song describes the feelings of a person suffering at the hands of their partner but sticking to it despite the distress it causes her. She sings
“I let you do the worst/We fight and cry/I forgive you everything, I'm in denial/I do this every day, we don't get tired.”
The verses expose the repetitive nature of the conflict and temporary resolutions that exist in this relationship. The hook, which also ends the song, lays the blame for the charade at everyone’s feet.
“Fool me once, shame on you/Fool me twice, shame on me too/Fool me once, shame on you/We got to be mad, out of our minds, for what we do.”
“Take Him Back”
Ah, this is a fun one. The album’s second track details the singer’s mental anguish as she regrets having an affair with a man who is already in a relationship with another woman. She might be Ghanian, but this is a classic Lagos story. Over soft drums and guitar strums, Y’akoto expresses her fears about the entire thing, which is basically a moral conflict:
“I don't want to be a stealer/I don't want to be a cheater.”
The song’s imagery is incredibly vivid and the last verse is a prime example of potent songwriting:
“Guilt is a hole/It's as deep, it's steep/Full of cadavers.”
As I listen to the intro again, there is one question on my mind as she pleads with the main woman to take her man back: What if he does not want to go back?
“All I Want (Comme Çi, Comme Ça)”
“Comme Çi, Comme Ça” is a French phrase meaning “so-so.” It is usually used as a response when a friend asks, “how are you?” A loose pidgin translation would be “I just dey” or “anyhow,” depending on the situation.
Language lesson aside, the song is a declaration of love for her partner. The other French phrase in the chorus is “N'importe quoi” which means “no matter what” and exposes the breadth of the affection she feels. It does not matter what occurs; she loves him. Although she is not the only one who has feelings for him – as she states in the bridge – she will take what she can get, anyhow she can, Comme Çi, Comme Ça.
“Love Me Harder”
On “Love Me Harder”, our heroine is confused. The end of the relationship is near, just when it is at its sweetest. “The coffee is not strong enough; the shower is not cold enough”, she sings. Nothing is strong enough to drive the pain away. She wants many things at once: a distraction, a kiss, to be loved harder so she feels no regret.
For those who subscribe to it, love is indeed a confusing emotion and this song explores all of the complexities that appear when you find something too good to be true and then it is not.
Here, Y’akoto tells the story of a dancer dissatisfied with love and life – already affected by a less than pleasant childhood, her problems compound with adult love and loss. Throughout the sadness that is her life, she is still expected to carry on like there is no problem – a look into how society expects women to move on despite the trauma and damage that they may have experienced.
“Ooooo... You!/You better dance, Maggie!/You.../You, you, you, you/You better dance, Maggie!/You, you, you, you,”
A politically-charged song, “Reception” discusses refugee problems in Europe, of which she is a famous advocate for better treatment. The song also alludes to the album title, framing refugees as mermaids making their way onto land, the same way refugees from all over travel by sea. Although migration is necessary for people escaping war, hunger, and poverty, policies and laws restrict them from entering foreign lands. This is the poor reception she sings about in the chorus:
“We don't have a good reception/Everything is blank and true/Weaving with my free end to the/Other side of the moon/We don't even give a damn, we/We just hope it turns out good/If they all go upside down, we/We go on the ground to show.”
The song ends on a hopeful note; it all turns out good despite the difficulties.
“We Walk The Line”
Unlike earlier songs about love in a romantic context, this song addresses a heart disappointed by life and its many pitfalls. Despite how carefully we plan, unexpected obstacles get in the way and can dampen our resolve. But even this troubled life is not enough to phase her. She says
“We are losers, but we are very brave/Brave and shamelessly/We await to fail.”
Despite the hurdles, she is determined to fail forward as they say, and beat the odds while learning lessons along the way.
“Drink, My Friend”
Here, love is compassion. The song tells the story of sailors on a journey who have run out of supplies with still a long way to go. The singer is distressed by their condition and invites them to drink before embarking on the rest of the trip. The twist here is that the singer herself can relate to their condition as her life is not smooth sailing, either. Therefore distracting herself with the pain of others is how she survives the hassle.
“Help, my friend/Sing, my friend/Drink, my friend/Cause there is no end,”
“Who I Am”
On “Who I Am”, Y’akoto is in love with her city, despite its peculiarities and negative sides. Like she was on “All I Want (Comme Çi, Comme Ça)”, she accepts that the city has many sides but it does not diminish her love for it.
“Another couple fighting/And a baby screaming close through the door/The lady at the corner works her shift to pay her dealer/And the busker sings a song I don't know.”
Y’akoto returns to crooning about relationships on this track. Over a soft piano tune, she sings about providing companionship and support to her lover as the weekend draws to a close. The scope of the track could be extended to platonic relationships like family and friends, because at its core, it is about showing up for those we care about.
“You don't have to be so strong/Some days are lonely/So I'll come along/You don't have to be alone on a Sunday.”
“King of the Dark”
To close out the album, Y’akoto returns to where she started: in a relationship with a toxic partner. Despite the warmth her love provides, he is cold and distant, a stumbling block in their connection:
“Where you come from/Nobody knows/You're so terribly cold/You're okay with being a lonely soul.”
Despite this, she is still ready to give her love: “You won't be on this ship alone, if it falls down, I'll follow, I'll follow you.” However, unlike earlier instances where she accepted or compromised in the face of aloofness and seeming disinterest, she is determined to set her own boundaries and stand her ground this time:
“I'm not another victim/I'm just your reflection/I'm not another territory that you can invade/Just look into the mirror/I see right through your skin/I feel what you’re made of/And I'm ready to give in/I'm not another victim!”
She has come full circle and grown throughout this journey, growing and discarding unpalatable aspects while retaining her ability to love despite all that life has thrown at her.