Wonderfully-judged lyrics abound on this political album
Andrew Belt
11:31 21st April 2022

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When you’ve built up a following over a number of years before releasing your debut album, what approach do you take? Do you, a) ignore previous releases and include only new tracks like Nilüfer Yanya did with Miss Universe? b) include some, but not all, older tracks like Celeste did with Not Your Muse? Or, c) go for the jugular and find room for virtually all the songs your audience knows you for like Brighton fuzz-rock band Beach Riot did with Sub Atomic Party Cool? 

This is the dilemma south Londoner Poppy Ajudha faced ahead of releasing her debut album, The Power in Us. Since her first releases way back in 2015, Ajudha has amassed 25 million streams, been featured in Barack Obama’s Best of the Year playlist, sold out headline tours, gained acclaim from peers and the press, won Jazz FM’s 2019 Soul Act of the Year and even headed up her own podcast series focusing on how to bring about social change. 

In the time since 2015, Ajudha’s output has diversified from a mainly jazz-oriented sound to a collection of more radio-friendly songs, with this step-change marked by the excellent 2020 single ‘Low Ride’ that she released with Mahalia. Thereafter, Ajudha’s singles have skirted different genres with the heaviest nod to her jazz beginnings, ‘Watermelon Man (Under the Sun)’ the pick of the bunch, with its distinctive ambience allowing Ajudha’s versatile vocals the chance to soar beautifully (one of the best tracks of 2020 in this writer’s humble opinion). 

So, this is a long-winded way of conveying the high anticipation which precedes The Power in Us and, in answer to the question raised at the top, Ajudha follows Yanya’s path, leaving her previous efforts in the past and moving forward with a collection of twelve new tracks. (Albeit three of which having been released as teasers ahead of the album release.) 

The Power in Us is a political album. It finds Ajudha addressing a range of themes with the core message being: use your voice and fight for what you believe in. Or more eloquently put, and in Ajudha’s own words: “This album is made up of all the things swimming in my mind, from women’s rights, to the right to cross borders, to the power of young people to inspire and be unafraid to rock the boat in the name of progress.” 

Ajudha cements herself as an important voice in music, tackling issues head-on and using plenty of arresting audio clips throughout The Power in Us. The album begins with ‘WHOSE FUTURE – OUR FUTURE’, a 90-second song with Ajudha whispering the title words. She's joined by kids in this refrain as an electric guitar is played in a free form with all the music stopping at the end to make way for a woman saying: "we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes". 

The dominant electric guitar returns for most recent single ‘PLAYGOD’ written about the Alabama abortion bill and lamenting how men seek to play God in controlling what women can and can’t do with their bodies. Ajudha’s vocals work perfectly as frontwoman of this chest-thumping rock track which is an epic way to kick off the album. 

Momentum continues with third track, and second single ‘HOLIDAY FROM REALITY’ with Ajudha’s lyrics addressing the stress of pushing yourself to achieve something and how it’s important to take time to look after yourself in the maelstrom of modern life. A lovely acoustic guitar riff leads this catchy pop song which is relatable to us all and is notable on The Power in Us for being the one truly inward-looking moment in a collection of tracks addressing political and social issues. 

‘MOTHERS SISTERS GIRLFRIENDS’ addresses how women can be so much more than the labels listed in the title, which are terms often framed by their relationship to men. The song plays out over a funky beat with lovely background harmonies. ‘DEMONS’ is a soft ballad about mental health and the importance of looking out for one another, with Ajudha’s vocals soaring on the delicate musical arrangement. ‘FALL TOGETHER’ is the biggest nod to Ajudha’s jazz roots with the south Londoner singing about the importance of human connection in a world destined for oblivion over a cool drum and piano pairing.  

‘LAND OF THE FREE’ embraces a grime-like beat with Ajudha calling out internet surveillance and the greed of those in power, surmising that we should protest things which aren’t right to protect our freedoms. First single ‘LONDON’S BURNING’ ends the album (save for a 30-second outro) with the isolationist tack the UK has taken through Brexit finding Ajudha’s ire over an electronic drum beat which wouldn’t be out of place in a Linkin Park song. 

Stitching these songs together are a couple of interludes—one a recording of Ajudha pondering on how to create change and the other a short song about the efforts we all make to be accepted in society—and an outro off the back of ‘FALL TOGETHER’ with acclaimed saxophonist, Nubya Garcia, joining in with a softly-plucked guitar. 

The sensational start to the album in its opening three tracks which makes you wonder whether Ajudha has hit upon a classic (akin to Little Simz’s Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, perhaps). Despite the wonderfully-judged, important lyrics, musically, the album settles for something less ambitious. There is grace and poise in the varied palette of the album but you end up yearning for something greater.  

Ajudha’s vocal range and delivery is outstanding, finding herself somewhere in the middle of Adele, Amy Winehouse and Celeste, and perhaps this sets expectations higher for her music than you might with other artists but. Nevertheless, rather than attaining greatness, The Power in Us highlights the massive potential Ajudha has to deliver a classic and confirms that this is an artist worth keeping an eye on.

The Power in the God arrives 22 April.

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Photo: Press