Ujamaa & The Iceberg was a 2018 release from Morten Lindberg’s Norwegian label 2L, and yet another of his pieces to receive a lot of buzz in the industry. He received a Grammy nod in 2019, having produced this album from two works by composer Henning Sommerro, Ujamaa and Iceberg, which were composed as cantatas. The album is an exciting entry in what is now an impressive saga of immersive audio albums coming out of Lindberg’s label.
The project is large in scale and wonderfully woven, as the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and Choir soar through a collection of rapidly-evolving pieces by Sommerro, a musician who has released an incredible and varied selection of music, spanning numerous genres and styles, since his first recognition in the 1970s.
Ujamaa, the first of the works, means “coming together in brotherhood” in Swahili. The work feels like it draws rhythmic and tonal inspiration from a wide global spectrum. Indeed, this is reflected in the titles of the work, as we listen through the tracks entitled “Europe,” “Africa”, “Asia”, “America,” and “Australia”.
“Europe” starts with a jaunty and almost whimsical feel, before “Africa” springs us into a less densely populated soundscape, which swells dramatically before breaking down into its melodies and almost tribal percussion.
Much of these works contain cantata stylings, and vocalist Lena Willemark holds the music together beautifully with a wide vocal range and avant-garde bravery that shines through the challenging melodies she is tasked with singing. “America” showcases a chaotic elegance in her incredible vocal takes. “Asia” adds mystery, before “Australia” brings the tempo up once more. “Finale” is a beautiful and understated piece to tie up this first part of the composition, and Willemark’s vocals blast through in a cinematic and dramatic performance. The perfect transition into the second work, The Iceberg.
Strings bring in “The Sun,” the first piece and one that feels like daybreak itself, an optimism surrounding the aural spectrum. Lush layers of strings and vocals stun in a multi-dimensional soundstage.
A contrast in the vocals of Florin Demit moves us through “The Ice,” a piece which gradually leads us more to a feeling of despair and uncertainty, as Demit’s chants become less certain. If “The Ice” is the calm before the storm, “The Sea” brings the chaos, it jitters and flutters, with a shanty style giving a nautical feel amidst the ambitious percussion, one of the finest examples of Lindberg’s production as the drums tease and tempt in a huge soundstage, yet retain their dynamics and keep us guessing.
“The Battle” brings an altogether more somber feeling. We are truly submerged in some of the tragedy and chaos of combat. A song with a feeling of aftermath and devastation, with strings winding intricately towards our conclusion, “The Vision.” With a hint of drama, “The Vision” feels like triumph and new equilibrium, and a spectacular ending with unperturbed, resolute vocal chanting. A satisfying end to a work walking us through the full range of human emotion and experience, with a simple concept explored in a spectacular way by both Sommerro and Lindberg. Another triumph from 2L.