Out now (all formats)
Greentea Peng mixes and matches multifarious musical influence into a steamy stew of stoner beats that’s just perfect for a summer’a day. Get your bets on now for the Mercury Music Prize: it’s the album of the year so far, says Tim Cooper.
Buy here at Sister Ray
At first I was put off by Greentea Peng, the stage name adopted by Aria Wells. I thought it was just a bit too contrived, a bit too arch and hipster; but I hadn’t heard her music until the video for Revolution, shot in a market down the road from where I live in East London, at the tail end of last year.
It was love at first beat. I love the way Wells takes well-worn styles such as soul, blues, jazz, reggae and trip hop and weaves them into a hazy, trippy, smoky sound that, despite the familiarity of its component parts, she makes all her own.
She has a look tht matches the music she makes: her exotic body art, her piercings, her clothes that look like they were picked up in markets from Marrakesh and Goa to Brooklyn and Hackney (and probably were).
Part hippy chick, part fly girl, part bashment queen, part soul diva, she’s the sum of her parts – born and raised in South London and the South Coast with an Arab father and an African mother and a stepfather into Iron Maiden and The Clash. Not to mention a period running a yoga retreat in Mexico.
For me she sums up everything great about Britain in 2021: the quintessential Londoner who’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and lots of little bits of everything else, absorbing all the sights, the sounds, the smells and all the other experiences that shes’s come across and picked up in her daily life.
She’s the antidote to that stereotype of post-Brexit Britain that much of the world sees: a red-faced gammon swathed in a flag of St George, booing footballers for taking a symbolic stand against discrinination, inequality and injustice? I know which one I prefer.
Greentea Peng has been prolifically putting out music since her debut EP Sensi in 2018, followed by the aptly titled Rising the following year, and a dozen more tunes since then. She was picked as one to watch by the BBC and The Observer before all this pandemic malarkey, and she did a spot on Later With Jools at the end of last year.
Her album, recorded with her seven-piece Seng Seng band in a country house and boasting 18 tracks (and running longer than an hour), does not disappoint. If you were picky, you might say she could have trimmed a few tracks but the whole point of Man Made is that it’s a vibe – hopeful messages for our troubled times presented in a mellow vibe that can be best enjoyed in the sunshine with your stimulant of choice.
Her own are far from hidden – there are numerous exhortations to enjoy some sensimilla and, amid the many references to Krishna and Jah and God, and freeing your mind to stop Babylon coming down, the listener is repeatedly urged in Party Hard to “Free your mind – do yourself a favour and eat some magic ‘shrooms.”
Meditation does exactly what it says on the tin. “Sensi is my beloved,” she sings over the kind of sleepy beats we used to call trip-hop, as percussion clicks hypnotically and piano tinkles prettily. “Sensimilla help me zone in.”
Even without external stimulants, Man Made provides a sense of blissful relaxation all by itself. “This sound is physical, very physical and literal,” she sings, issuing a statement of intent in This Sound. “But metaphysical and mystical… It’s sensual and plentiful; alchemical, it’s medicine and medical. Now open wide and let it in.”
The influences and styles are many and various. Free My People and Be Careful incorporate what can only be called jazz flute, while Nah It Ain’t The Same features breakbeats and scratching behind a meditation on what it is to be a man today, and much wordplay that might otherwise have ended up as a rap. “I believe in magic because I’ve seen it,” she sing-speaks over the kind of fat bass and skittering drums that Roni Size built an entire genre out of.
This Sound and Poor Man Skit are laid-back funk grooves driven by bubbling bass; the former throws in syncopated horns, the latter prefres piano runs that give it a jazz flavour. The mellifluous Kali V2 and Dingaling, meanwhile, float and shimmer and get inside your head with their sinuous melodies (and excellent videos).
There are psychedelic guitar melodies in Maya, more shimmering guitar in the bassy, dub-like Earnest, and what can only be called grunge riffing in Sinner, suggesting stepdad might have played his metal albums once or twice at home, while the acoustic guitar that introduces Suffer makes you feel you’re listening on a beach, probably in Ibiza.
The closing Jimtastic Blues evolves from shuffling breakbeats into the sort of orchestral arrangement The Temptations might have used in their psychedelic-soul heyday. “We’ve got to fight for our right to party,” she declares as horns build, and strings arrive to bring it to a euphoric conclusion.
The fight has already been won – it’s the album of the year so far.
Greentea Peng Tour dates:
17 MAR 22 – CONCORDE II – BRIGHTON
18 MAR 22 – ST MARY IN THE CASTLE – HASTINGS
20 MAR 22 – O2 ACADEMY 2 – OXFORD
21 MAR 22 – CAMBRIDGE JUNCTION – CAMBRIDGE
23 MAR 22 – THE CAVES – EDINBURGH
24 MAR 22 – MANCHESTER ACADEMY 2 – MANCHESTER
26 MAR 22 – THE MILL – BIRMINGHAM
27 MAR 22 – NORWICH ARTS CENTRE – NORWICH
28 MAR 22 – THE LEADMILL – SHEFFIELD
31 MAR 22 – ALEXANDRA PALACE THEATRE– LONDON
02 APR 22 – MARBLE FACTORY – BRISTOL