In the words of director and artist Simon Frederick: “Black is the new black”. And few things this year have brought delight, joy and open-mouthed awe to me than the sight of black sisters rocking natural curls with pride. Alicia Keys, Solange, Corinne Bailey Rae, Fleur East, Nao and Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo, to name but a few of the music world’s natural hair heroes.
But what has hair got to do with music – and Lion Babe specifically? More than you’d think. Hair is an express of the self. And anyone who knows what it’s like maintaining an afro, day in, day out, will tell you that – just ask Erykah Badu, India.Arie or Solange. Jillian Hervey, Lion Babe’s majestic frontwoman, wears a mane of golden curls that look as though they were a gift from the goddess Oshun herself.
Hervey’s natural hair journey – as well as the fact she is the daughter of singer and actress, Vanessa Williams – brought her face to face with taunts, teases and pressure for her to conform to her attacker’s standards of beauty. But, as she told Glamour magazine earlier this year, returning to natural hair led her to feel “very comfortable in my skin and really confident about who I was”. The Lion Babe of today could not exist without this comfortable, confident brown-skinned wonder woman.
Lion Babe are singer Jillian Hervey and soundman Lucas Goodman (aka Astro Raw): two 70s-loving New Yorkers, who dress like Uniqlo models you – or at least your art school friends – could hang out with, and they make dance music that’s almost as finely tuned as their threads.
Before you even hear their music, one might be tempted to make a comparison to AlunaGeorge, for obvious surface-level reasons. But though there’s some jitteriness to be found, Lion Babe aren’t treading the same house music revival of the UK duo. Instead, it’s the disco and pop of Sister Sledge, A Taste of Honey and Chaka Khan that feel like the distance relations of Lion Babe’s chic, 21-century dance music.
‘Wonder Woman’, produced by Pharrell Williams, is a sizzling proclamation of female strength set to a taut, tribal guitar beat. ‘Impossible’ feels like a collision of hip-shaking electronica and an early 2000s Shalamar remix, married to Hervey’s self-assured vocals. There is a definite, slow jam vibe to Lion Babe’s music which can be felt in ‘Stressed Out!’, ‘Satisfy My Love’ and ‘Jungle Lady’. These are tunes you could quite happily bust a move to in a loose-fitting outfit or a fashionable evening get-up.
Begin is a sizable album that shows off Lion Babe’s musical potential with wide-eyed gusto. In some ways it’s a classic debut from a talent that is still developing its sound: buzzing with ideas, but not quite shaping the mixture into a fresh and focused album. Still, Daft Punk’s Homework was practically a demo compared to follow-up, Discovery. Besides, Lion Babe’s debut has its heavy hitters, such as ‘Jump Hi (feat. Childish Gambino)’, ‘Treat Me Like Fire’ and the stupendous 80s energy of ‘Where Do We Go’, that will lure you back like a hungry bear to a honey-coated dance floor. Lion Babe’s debut is an energetic, finely-tuned pop record that deserves attention. This is just the beginning for Hervey and her glorious natural curls.
Begin is out now on Outsider/Polydor.
Have you listened to this album? If so, what did you think of it? Tweet me @aarnlee.
Image: Misha Taylor/PR