[The imagery of Emmaleen leans into her genre’s aesthetic. PHOTO: Supplied/Emmaleen] 

Namibian-born Emmaleen is a self-taught guitarist, banjo player and vocalist who has been gracing Cape Town with her gothic blues for the past several years. She has played on stages around the Mother City, including SurfaRosa, Evol, and The Armchair Theatre.

Her full debut album, Songs from the Unseen, the Unsaid and the Unborn, was released on 28 October last year, marked by a performance at Glitch Culture’s NOISE EX. // Poltergeist halloween party. It was an appropriate choice for launching a project with a decidedly haunting tone — a cold wind of vocals and acoustic strings rolling in through the trees.

Emmaleen has a voice perfectly suited to the genre, and fills out the mix with slide guitar, banjo, and a smattering of percussion. But the lack of dedicated drums does nothing to diminish her music’s wistful rhythm; whose shakers, stomps and strums are sure to get you tapping along.

In the Night Time

The album’s second track opens to a low grinding noise walking circles around your ears, before the banjo sings out from the darkness. It draws you in with some meandering and sinks the hook as it falls into rhythm.

That’s all before Emmaleen’s voice enters, patient and content to let you hang in the quiet before coming back in on the ebb and flow of the track’s beat. ‘In the Night Time’ shows off a sound where every piece brings out the best of each other — throaty vocals to contrast sharper strings, tied together with an infectious foxtrot timing. 

Bone House

The opening banjo monologue of ‘Bone House’ is just fantastic, and deserves better than being caged by a written description. It starts as a leisurely, winding stroll, but before you know it you’ve been drawn down the song’s building, urgent momentum like an unexpectedly steepening hill.

We then bottom out to a comfortable pace punctuated by a shaker. ‘Bone House’ plays with more ambient sounds than most tracks on this project, incorporating subtle rustles, whistles and reverberating backing vocals — a demonstration of Emmaleen’s ability to craft an enveloping sound that pulls you into its ominous embrace. 

Following this is the short ‘Interlude’ in which the vocals take a second to rest, while your palate is cleansed with a serving of solo guitar. It makes for a welcome detour and shows the breadth of styles this project pulls from.

3 Nights and 2 Days

Despite its less-than-chipper subject matter, the second to last track, ‘3 Nights and 2 Days’, is easily one of the most upbeat on the album. It’s got a lively, folk feel complimented by longing lyrics.

We’re sung home by ‘Family Pain’, which squeezes in some bluegrass flavour on slide guitar. All in all, Songs from the Unseen, the Unsaid and the Unborn is a moody, poetic collection that would be a good friend for quiet nights or smokey, wood-furnished bars. 

Her latest single, ‘The Other Side‘, was just released on 3 February — a recording from a trip to Dublin back in 2015. It shows off a considerably more foreboding attitude and features powerful, mournful vocals. 

Emmaleen will be playing the inaugural Blue Light Underground event on 5 February. Taking place at The Ice Factory on Church Street, the event hopes to be the first in a series of nights which focus on making music more accessible to audiences. 

You should definitely take the chance to see her in person, where her sound can echo across a room and straight into your soul. 

Author

​​I write about the tech sector in hopes we can find human-centred alternatives to the mess we’ve made for ourselves. I get involved in the music scene because leaving passion unpursued is a sin. When my feet aren’t busy on the sokkie floor, you can find me chasing silver linings.

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