Poppy Ajudha’s debut EP is roiling, meandering and contemplative. The 22-year-old singer, who hails from south London, has been making waves on London’s underground music scene for a few years, crafting a sound which is both imbued with Amy Winehouse’s legacy, and still distinctly her own. Her latest release, Femme, is a testament to this. Bringing together improvisational jazz with myriad other sonic influences, it is a five-track exploration of “race, gender and sexuality through the lens of [Ajudha’s] own experiences and perceptions”.
Track two, which follows an opening monologue from Ajudha, doesn’t immediately call these themes to mind, though. ‘Spilling Into You’ is a moody number in which the singer muses about becoming one with another over soft bass, and twisting synth. It folds into a gushy verse from fellow London artist Kojey Radical: “You would think the skin I’m in was made for you / You tell me your truth and I’m a slave for you”.
On track three, the theme of identity politics begins to shyly rear its head. ‘Tepid Soul’ – originally released in late 2017 – confronts the artist’s dual heritage, and the disparate definitions that are projected onto her as a result of it. The EP’s cover, too, probes a conversation about race: a vivid reimagining of Henri Roussau’s The Dream, by the illustrator Alice Bloomfield. Ajudha was intentional about her choice of artwork: “[Roussau’s oeuvre] reflects the highly fetishised ways in which the ‘Other’ was presented in the West” she says, “Here instead sit a collective of WoC, pictured reclaiming the spaces in which they are often the subject of fantasy and exoticism in both their everyday life and intimate sexual relationships”. This fantasy is addressed succinctly in the chorus of ‘Tepid Soul’: “Soak your hands in my tepid soul / Grabbing pieces then you let me go” she sings, her voice bubbling over and serenely melting back into the track.
Track four presents a winding harp beneath repeated croons of “Where Did I Go?” and it kind of sounds like the soundtrack for a perfume ad, in the best way possible. On the EP’s closing song, the singer departs from her signature sound in favour of something more subby and gritty. She establishes herself firmly in the electro R&B of artists like AlunaGeorge and NAO, providing bite on an EP that is otherwise sober and reflective.
It feels that bit more London than the rest of the record, Ajudha’s vocals are more arresting – taking centre stage rather than gently dissolving into the track, as they do elsewhere. ‘She is the Sum’, when positioned alongside Ajudha’s more jazzy numbers, gives insight into the breadth of sounds that inform her work: her dad previously owned a bar in south London, which frequently hosted live roots reggae and rocksteady acts, and her mum was a big time into jazz and soul.
Femme is a gorgeous first body of work, and a tentative exploration of race and sexuality that makes good on Ajudha’s intentions: “I want women to feel empowered, I want people of colour to feel their voices are heard or experiences shared, I hope that my music will help people to accept themselves.”