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The Scarlet & Black

Abra promises smooth originality tonight

Photo contributed
Photo contributed
Photo contributed

Halley Freger

It’s been an exciting week for music at Grinnell as Concerts prepares to host their third show of the week. Tonight at 9 p.m. in Gardner Lounge, Atlanta-based R&B singer and producer Abra will perform a show that is not to be missed.

Although originally born in Queens, New York, Abra’s parents were missionaries, and she spent her first eight years in London where her parents built a church. It was here that her interest in singing began and continued to grow as she moved to a suburb outside Atlanta. At 14, she began playing the guitar and eventually starting posting acoustic rap covers on YouTube. This is where he career began as Awful Records founder and rapper Father took notice of her. She began creating original music and, in 2014, she joined the label.

As a pop-influenced R&B act, Abra stands out among the other artists on the mostly male-dominated Awful Records. Although the tight-knit squad is composed of rappers such as Father, Richposlim, KeithCharlesSpacebar and Archibald Slim, Abra has created a name for herself within the group with her distinctive bedroom R&B. 

However, being part of this group of artists appears to have clear effects on her music, adding a harder, hip-hop influenced edge. On her most recent album “Princess,” Abra reveals herself as just that — the Princess of Awful Records. On tracks like “Come 4 Me,” her dreamy vocals initially blend into a minimalist beat, but the song builds to include more hard-hitting instrumentals. On the track “Vegas,” she flexes her skillful ability to reimagine classic R&B sounds in a lo-fi style. The song sounds kind of like if you added ’80s Madonna instrumentals to a song Aaliyah recorded in her bedroom. Mostly, it sounds like nothing you’ve heard before.

Abra writes and produces all of her music in her Atlanta apartment using a laptop and a USB mic. She maintains a control over her music, style and overall image. The self-proclaimed “Darkwave Dutchess” is shrouded in mystery, often refusing to reveal personal information such as her age and “real name.” However, her refusal to reveal such information in interviews allows her to carefully curate the image she does present. These details are unimportant; her music is where her identity is revealed. She is concerned with creating music representative of her experience as a black woman freely expressing herself.

Ultimately, she creates a representation of confidence. Her track “Crybaby” is somewhat ironic because she doesn’t sound whining or weak — her voice is intensely confident and powerful as it rings over an ’80s inspired dance beat. She sings, “I got an ocean of emotion inside,” exemplifying her ability to imbue her songs with a vulnerability that serves as a source of power.

Her music comes from a very personal place (it’s literally recorded in her home), and she is concerned with creating genuine experiences at her shows. It is in this desire to freely be herself that her iconic sense of style emerges, allowing her to explore the fusion of ’90s R&B, lo-fi aesthetics, ’80s synths and contemporary hip-hop beats.

You don’t want to miss the genuine experience Abra is sure to give us tonight in Gardner.

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