ucille Clifton wrote one of her most celebrated poems “won’t you celebrate with me” in 1993 asking us,
“won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up…”
The debut album from the three piece, Afro-Asian, queer and nonbinary Wastewomxn shares Clifton's ethos: we make ourselves up and we adorn ourselves in the process.
Wastewomxn is Tobi Adebajo (they/them), Adedamola Bajomo (they/them), and Kyoko Takenaka (they/them) whose origins lie in queer kinship and diasporic connections. With Tobi and Adedamola based in Essex and London respectively, and Kyoko in LA, the three have built foundational ties through artistry over several years — particularly through the QTIPOC scene in London, where videos like Snap Me Out Of It were shot in the queer-centered barbershop, Open Barbers. Though Tobi, Kyoko, and Adedamola have been longtime creative collaborators, Wastewomxn as a group and a debut project coalesces their kinship and expansive genre practices.
Wastewomxn refer to themselves as “unbinary aliens” chiefly concerned with taking seriously the need for imagination and capacious thinking when it comes to getting free, to healing, to getting home and to making a home out of the body we are given. “Unbinary” is a word adopted from Tobi’s young daughter Gabi (she/they), who when learning about nonbinary-ness, instead uttered “unbinary”; and in its charm and brilliance, it stuck. Tobi, Adedamola, and Kyoko are all multidisciplinary artists and cultural workers outside of Wastewomxn. You can find them working in healing spaces, arts performance, drag, hair art, and even other musical endeavors. Their collective variety of experiences and influences are reflected in their debut album.
Featured in High Fidelity Season 1 and NTS Radio, the group's handful of singles and videos have made their way into both the US and UK media landscapes though they’ve remained an independent collective and band.
Wastewomxn, the album, fuses elements of Yoruba and Japanese culture with styles of punk, straight-ahead rock, RnB, and immensely melodic chants. The influence of artists from Poly Styrene to Screaming Toenail to Big Joanie to Fela Kuti can be heard on the nine-track album. Feminist punk stands out as one of the more overarching sonic and thematic throughlines. Linguistically, Yoruba, Japanese, and English are all utilized, allowing for what the groups emphasize in their practice: a decentering and divesting from colonial gazes or (imperial) capitalist demands of commodification. In this way, the work takes the history and cultures of the members seriously while their lyrics and stylings focus on self-care, community, and radical softness.
The album evokes a feeling of being stretched; the music functions as a pair of hands, attempting to pull something in you open wider and wider with each tug. The album’s generosity in genre is both ambitious and committed to ingenuity. Something new is created with each song.
The title track, Wastewomxn, is otherworldly as it opens with sultry guitar, sounds of birds chirping, and then moves into a haunting kind of chant, “Wastewomxn, wastewomxn, wastewomxn/ Hear me roar.” The song shifts into a punk-infused movement, both waning and waxing in full sound. From the playful harmonizing of “Hey!/ Did you breathe out today?/ Oh, hey/ Take some time out to play?” it moves to the guitar and drum filled answer, “They'll take and take and take away/ 'Til there's nothing left but an angry face” only to break again, and repeat the question: did you breathe out today?
Wastewomxn also aims to do the work of merging. All three band members consider themselves diasporic; Tobi and Adedamola with Yoruba backgrounds and UK upbringings, and Kyoko with a Japanese background with US upbringings. In tracks like Kokoro-ifé, Japanese and Yoruba both overlap, speak to, and with tenderness, chase each other sonically. The track starts with Kyoko singing, 心の, which translates to both heart and of the heart. Tobi answers with “kokoro ifé” translating to the key to love. Kyoko then asks は何処, or where, and Tobi responds with “kokoro ife/ Ko to nkan,” saying that the key to love is nowhere and everywhere; it can’t be seen but you know its there. There is an interplay between all three languages on the album. This shines in moments like when Kyoko asks in Japanese on Natural Ones, “where is everyone’s courage?”, and Tobi’s young daughter Gabi gleefully responds, “I’ll teach you!”
Kaygua also merges tradition with the present, where the narrative of the track draws from Japanese story of a princess on the moon who is sought out and found by a bamboo farmer. Her story then becomes one of navigating the pressures and expectations of being on a pedestal while trying to find love in the earthly world.
Tracks like I Am and Snap Me Out Of It not only reinforce the band's multiplicity as a collective and as individuals. On I am, the song reads like an affirmation and is mostly spoken and chanted. The track features a series of voice notes exchanged between the band that laments over the demands of the every day: rush hour, gas, and sending money home, followed by the lyrics “Forget the world/ This breath is yours/ Remember you’re a channeling force!” Snap Me Out of It moves back into a more heavy rock influence with urgency driving both the sound and sentiment of finding a way to be a present participant in one’s own life.
Much of the album was produced and performed by WW (with all three on vocals and Kyoko often on guitar). It also features a combination of Los Angeles-based queer femme instrumentalists from the Tuesday night cafe scene and musicians the group met through midi music in south London Deptford.
When asked about themes of the work and process, Wastewomxn shared their reflections on the project and process:
Adedamola: I think the overlaps have to do with the diaspora and the similarities of being in the categories of other. All of our cultures are very rooted in being connected to our surroundings and what we’ve come from and being a part of the fabric of all existence. For me, it's also realizing [culture has] never been without queerness and that I’m not the weird one and understanding there is and always have been lines that we come from.
Tobi: A lot of Yoruba and Japanese connections have been born out of us being comfortable enough to explore the depth of our nature and our speaking our languages around each other. When we lean into that, we can see the musical elements, where things appear in both languages, and how that can inform our writing.
Kyoko: I think both cultures share this return to ancient knowings and practices of healing especially, and that's where we bond directly a lot. Whether that's different healing modalities or rituals that we are incorporating into our work, or through the expression of movement and art. If we were always centering English, then we wouldn’t have that. To tie it to queerness — this concept of “unbinary alien” — I think that's something we embrace as diasporic cultures in saying we have been othered in western society [while simultaneously asking,] what does it look like when we actually value those roots and ancient knowings and then connect directly. During this pandemic, I think a lot of people are seeing that american and western is truly not the way and already failing, so people around the world are going back to their roots in different ways saying “hey what do we already know about survival and interdependence and [what] can we bring that to the table.”
Kyoko: We are so all over the place and I think it shows in our music, but I would say I come from an indie, rock, singer-songwriter kind of background. I was influenced by bands like Bikini Kill, Captain Jazz, Bob Dylan, Patty Smith, Jimi Hendrix. There were punk bands I loved, and of course, musicians who are politically conscious and always centering that work in the present moment — people like Nina Simone and Fred Ho. For Wastewomxn, I think a lot about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, OutKast, The Black Eyed Peas when they still had Kim Hill, and thinking about this kind of trio band energy. Our influence also comes from a lot of what queer people do, which is imagining and working towards futures we have yet to see. Angela Davis’s recent quote speaks to this, about how our roadmap to liberation is deeply influenced by queer and trans thought and work.
Tobi: For me, a lot of music [I grew up listening to] was gospel: growing up in the church, being part of the choir, and understanding harmony. In a religious context is where the referential context comes for me. And then it was things like Afrobeat, King Sunny Adé, and a lot of Nigerian music.
Adedamola: I’m heavily influenced by hip hop — like 90s hip hop — RnB, and soul. Sounds-wise, the keys and tones I like to try for my voice are 1970s rock-influenced. In terms of my writing and sound, I just like the truth of music; and some of my favorite artists who are women and who have made music like this are Betty Davis, Missy Elliot, Queen Latifah. They've always said the truth in their music, whether that be calling people out or being trash, as we all are [chuckles].
Tobi: These themes are close to our hearts and are pretty central to our everyday existence. As a band, we are trying to care for ourselves and each other as well as share our vulnerabilities, and in doing that we are making art that makes sense of our realities. Creatively, we are often working across timezones and different physical places, and we find the ways the work we have come up with individually fits together collectively.
Kyoko: Throughout the album, we weave between being the aliens and talking as aliens coming down to earth, talking about the present times, and also holding all the emotions as the human beings, dealing with everything going on. And that duality of being able to look at things from both perspectives, that's something I really love when we are all together. We are fully in the grind of everyday life in all of these cities and we’re fully present with all those things, but at the same time, we aren’t going to let go of that need of sending a strong message that needs to be said to earth about respecting your roots and mother nature and prioritizing falling in love with aliens whether that be queer folks, nonbinary folks, immigrants, and reclaiming how humans do this thing called life.