On May 12th 2023, Helsinki-based duo Ya Tosiba will release their second album, ASAP Inşallah, on Finnish label Huge Bass. A collaboration between Finnish producer Tatu Metsätähti and Azerbaijani musician and vocalist Zuzu Zakaria, Ya Tosiba absorbs electronics, live instrumentation and olkloric poetry of Caucasus into a spirited, groovy sound. The album will be led by two singles, ‘Mənəm’ and ‘Pul’, due for release on March 2nd and April 13th respectively.
The follow up to their 2017 debut album Love Party, Ya Tosiba’s ASAP Inşallah plays with tension of living in a world of contradictions. “It’s about wishing for something while knowing that it’s out of your control,” explains Zuzu, of the album title. “So, ‘As soon as possible, but only if God is willing’. It’s hoping for a better tomorrow despite today feeling dystopian: like doing yoga in a war zone,” she jokes dryly.
Growing up in Soviet Azerbaijan, Zuzu saw contradictions often. Her “dissident” family had limited access to Western music, with the Beatles on rotation; loved ones played instruments at gatherings, while she was classically trained at her Soviet-run music school. When her family emigrated to Norway in the 1990s, “the history of modern music felt like such a gap in my knowledge,” she remembers. And yet, unburdened by cultural stereotypes and notions of good taste, Zuzu felt free to explore this history “with an open mind, no preconceptions.”
While DJing in the Oslo club scene, Zuzu met Tatu Metsätähti: an electro producer, also known as Mesak and Mr Velcro Fastener, and of the Scandinavian skweee scene. (Musicianship runs in his family, too: Tatu’s grandfather is a respected composer of Finnish foxtrot, waltz and tango.) After a move to Berlin to pursue their academic studies and music, Zuzu and Tatu formed Ya Tosiba in the early 2010s; now settled in Helsinki, they’re ready for the next, experimental chapter.
Across the 10 tracks of ASAP Inşallah, musical and lyrical collaboration takes the listener on a global trek. Sonically, features come from Norway’s Center of the Universe, France’s Poborsk, Ukraine’s Zavoloka, Sweden’s Pavan and Daniel Savio, and Azerbaijan’s Rahman Memmedli. Four of the tracks draw on the meykhana genre, a style of Azerbaijani improvisational wedding music, with “poetry battles” soundtracked by microtonal electric guitar-playing.
As Zuzu sings in Azerbaijani, the storytelling of ASAP Inşallah comes alive. All of the album’s lyrics are taken directly from poetry and texts: with tales of romance and war, sex and gender, nature and machine, politics and society. Though the stories are varied, and some are historical, they all tap into that tension; it’s the weight of history versus the promise of tomorrow. After collecting myriad stories during her field studies, some of which are over 100 years old, Zuzu was stunned by their contemporary relevance.
“I thought these beautiful, political, witty stories had such a preservational value,” says Zuzu. “They shouldn’t be in some Masters thesis, locked away in a drawer for no one to read. Singing these stories directly to people feels so special. It’s about going into a mantra through these poetic improvisations, about going into nirvana by finding the right words.”
When Ya Tosiba wrote ASAP Inşallah, it started with these texts-as-lyrics; melodies and music were built out from their internal rhythms and vocal possibilities. With a range of electronic hardware and software, Zuzu and Tatu went back-and-forth, creating taut loops and clips out of Zuzu’s vocals, drums and keyboards, with samples of their collaborators instruments and Tatu’s productions.
In chopping up recordings of the live players into their electronic beats, Ya Tosiba creates an effect of tradition and modernity “being samples from the same record, taking it apart and looping it to sound like one machine.” The grooves are funky and downbeat, drawing on Tatu’s beatmaking; guitar riffs soar high, with the bumping synth pads and Zuzu’s haunting, processed vocals.
The patchwork nature of their process, alongside the ambitious and danceable sonics, invites the listener into Ya Tosiba’s unique perspective. “When people describe our music, they often say we ‘fuse so-called Oriental sounds with electronics’, but it feels weird to me,” says Zuzu, rejecting the notion that her Central Asian inspirations are an appendage to Tatu’s Scandinavian roots and their shared experiences of European electronic music. With ASAP Inşallah, “it’s not that it’s ‘fused’, mixed or inspired. It’s who we are.”