Guayaba Shapeshifts Through An Orphean Nightmare In Fantasmagoría
Cover photo by Adria Garcia
Fantasmagoría, by definition, is a shifting series of phantasms, illusions, or deceptive appearances. Another definition is a form of horror theater that uses magic lanterns to project images of demons, skeletons, or ghouls onto smoke or other screens. Guayaba’s latest offering Fantasmagoría, is closer to the latter.
“The album itself is loosely about a dream that descends into a nightmare of trauma, accepting one’s mortality, revenge, duality, and comfort in darkness,” Guayaba says. “Each story is formed by life experience, and in the past few years alone, I’ve experienced a theater of the grotesque that could only happen to a Black femme, and this was the only way I knew how to tell my story.”
The operatic tone is set from the opening track. This a vocal-heavy album, and it’s potent. Guayaba establishes a chorus of voices invoking Orishas, insects, reptiles, vengeance, magic, and vampirism. Their 2016 Black Trash/White House put Guayaba in catch-all genre Alternative or Experimental Hip Hop, but they say, “I started singing way before I started rapping, and it was nice to incorporate that in such a big way…. If [Black Trash/White House] is the fruiting tree, Fantasmagoría is both the fruit and the rot.”
There’s nothing else quite like Fantasmagoría, lush and jungle-like, full of both poisonous and beautiful things. Guayaba worked closely with Eric Padget, Owner and Operator of Noise Noise Ouch Stop Records, who engineered and mixed the album.
“Guay has such an extended range. I think we tracked around three octaves and a fifth, and so we decided to take a warm, dark, and rich approach to the vocals. Some of the vocal arrangements have 24 separate voices singing four motives each in six-part harmony,” Padget says. “We both definitely grasped onto the commonality of the mystic Diva. Yma Sumac, Umm Kulthum, Gal Costa, and Sarah Vaughn all made psycho-spiritual visits to the record, for sure.”
If that weren’t enough, Guayaba’s low, husky rap is juxtaposed on top of their layered vocals. Both WOLFTONE and Fish Narc crafted beats and samples throughout, Michaud Savage played guitar, and accomplished composer and musician Lori Goldston played cello. “Lori brought both extreme fragility and complex brutalism to the record,” Padget notes.
Lyrically, Guayaba stakes out powerful, yet deeply vulnerable personas, ones that come with a warning for whoever would cross them. “I’m that buck nasty bruja wit da piercings and da tattoos / and I refuse to settle for anything less than what I know I’m due,” Guayaba raps in “Mariposa Mala,” a track that ends with, “I am da black witch midnight moth / mariposa de la muerte / duppy bat across the threshold / gonna bring the mala suerte”
Insect and amphibian themes infest the album, and in “Sanguijuela,” have an appetite for blood. “I don’t mean to disconnect, but / Lately I been feelin’ Kafkaesque / like a horrible insect uh, / wriggling violently on my back . . . if you wanna place where it’s warm and wet, call me Akasha / Guayaba just want the neck.”
In possibly the album’s most formidable song, “D.U.M.E.,” Guayaba conjures a spell to avenge their pain, “Death Unto My Enemies / I wanna see you in misery / writhing on the ground in front of me, you deserve it for all that / you’ve done to me, / and I think this curse will be fun for me.”
“The experience of the Black woman can be magical; but it is magic we are forced to create out of darkness,” Guayaba says, reflecting on the hurt that informed parts of the album. “I was a sex worker, and was / am severely mentally ill. My abuser targeted Black women just like me; ones he thought he could get away with harming, ones he thought wouldn’t ever tell. It felt and still feels like a nightmare that I haven’t woken up from because the experience was so cartoonishly evil . . . . The dreams we create for ourselves will always, always have nightmares lurking around the corner. It’s inevitable.”
Those nightmares, rotted, composted, and alchemized, yield the sweetest and most venomous fruits in the garden of Fantasmagoría.
Catch Guayaba at Barboza on the Nov 21st for Danny’s BDAY B@SH with Guayaba & Very Special Friends. Find their album here.