By Noah Wade
You’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t have an interesting story about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their life, but I think YAA! Koala’s just might take the cake. Koala, a Russian-born electronic artist who normally splits his time between New York and London, traveled to Cape Town, South Africa for a short trip earlier this year, but was forced to quarantine there in his Air BnB when borders were closed. He may have been stuck in an unfamiliar place with no friends or collaborators within reach, but he made the most of the situation, completing work on his album “CHOIR BOY” which was released on May 29th.
World events have not only led him to be stuck in Africa for months on end but “CHOIR BOY” dropped just four days after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis and the subsequent riots that began in major cities across the world. However, he doesn’t let any of these unavoidable circumstances get him down. “Life is pretty messed up,” he said. “It’s challenging, bleak, and dark at times. But the thing that keeps us going, most of the time, are the people that we care about and music.”
“CHOIR BOY”, the name inspired by Koala’s days in acapella choirs, is a short and sweet seven-track album full of dancefloor-ready tracks like “Bad Gyal” and the motivational “Don’t Stop”. The record features a number of artists with global appeal, such as Lucy J, a Ukrainian singer who features on the latter, as well as Vietnamese singer Bibi Tran.
Some of the vocals used on the record, such as Lucy J’s verse on “Don’t Stop”, were taken from a previously shelved project. “We recorded so much during that time and I adore her,” he said. “If I don’t do her stuff justice, it’s just sad.” The same goes for Mystic Davis, a Jamaican singer featured on Koala’s aptly titled track “Jamaica Interlude”.
The final track on the record, appropriately titled “Cape Town” is a calmer, more mellow sound for Koala. “I definitely have more of a happy Marshmello vibe,” he said, referring to the mega-successful electronic star known for cuts like “Wolves” with Selena Gomez. “But I have more of a jump and head-bang vibe most of the time.” While electronic music is his working genre, he is inspired by a plethora of artists in hip-hop and soul such as Tyler, The Creator, and D’Angelo, particularly the latter’s seminal “Voodoo” album.
I was curious to know the story of how the name YAA! Koala came to be. He told me it pertains to audience participation, as it is “fun to yell”, but there are other significant things about it as well. “’Yaa’ just means ‘I’ in Russian,” he said. “And I think my music generally is feel-good and warm and welcoming and those are all things you could associate with koalas.” A fair statement from a man with an incredible mind, but whose kindness and light shines through. https://open.spotify.com/album/6KCS7hK6clGEpADRaen5dM?si=dKszMwo1SSWM1orxH92kow