The music that singer Amain Berhane creates under his alias Berhana moves at a dream-like rhythm. On his debut album, “HAN”, the first notes you hear on the introduction track “HN 001” are ethereal plinking piano keys as the listener is greeted by an inflight announcement. “Our trip will round out to thirty-three minutes and thirty-three seconds,” the disembodied inflight voice says, “Once the album is in progress, we ask that you fasten your headphones. Do this by placing the foam fittings over each ear, one at a time. Tighten, until you feel the bass has reached maximum slap. We suggest you take a moment to clear your thoughts in preparation of our journey. Thank you for choosing ‘HAN’.”
From there, Berhana takes you on a genre-defying journey of vintage R&B, hip-hop, electronica, and even tightly coiled rock and roll. The album’s free-flowing musical references and lyrical content that takes the listener on a globe-trotting journey from Japan to California makes “HAN” one of the most engaging and enjoyable records you are bound to hear this year. When I caught up with Berhane over the phone, he explains that this kind of epic scope was something he wanted to create from the beginning.
“I wanted it to feel like an international trip whereby the end of it, you feel like you’re coming home,” he says. “I think that really started with the very last record on my EP [from 2016] I put out before this called ‘Grey Luh’. The last line is, ‘Copped this one way out to Mexico / Cause you compress my soul and call it love’. So for me, that was kind of the beginning of this journey and I wanted this album to see it through.”
The lyrical journey matches the musical qualities of the record and to get this feeling on tape, the recording of “HAN” had to take on a globetrotting aspect as well with a large cast of characters to help along the way.
“We recorded the album in three different countries. We recorded in L.A., Japan, and also Vancouver. So we got to move around while making the album and focus on instrumentation which is something I’ve always wanted to do and hone in on. I got to bring in a lot of really great musicians and producers who I’ve always wanted to work with… It was a fun time making the album and I think you can tell when listening to the music,” says Berhana.
There is this sense while listening to “HAN” that nearly anything could happen. The smooth R&B of songs like “Drnuk” and “Health Food” may set the pace, but you lose your footing in the best possible ways with songs like the aggressive “G2g” and the spaced-out “Flashback”. This unpredictable nature is something that inspires him and makes Berhana one of the most exciting new artists we have.
“I think subverting expectations is something I want to do within everything I create,” explains Berhana. “Whether it’s in a live show, a short film, or an album. Whatever it is I’m creating I don’t want it to be something where you [say], ‘Oh yeah, this is exactly what I thought it was going to be.’”
Make sure to check out Berhana at Elsewhere in Brooklyn on 12/3.
Watch the video for “Health Food” by Berhana below…