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MUSIC: Local musician Yuni Wa shines on new LP 'Shimmer'

by Sean Clancy | September 23, 2021 at 1:33 a.m.
Little Rock electronic musician Yuni Wa’s new LP, “Shimmer,” will be released Friday. The 24-year-old has also contributed “Liberation,” a five-song EP, to the Outlaw Ocean Music Project, which was created by New York Times investigative reporter Ian Urbina. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Michael Sutterfield)

Little Rock electronic musician Yuni Wa cranks out music at a rapid clip — he's just 24 and has produced dozens of albums of abstract, creative instrumentals.

This month, he's got two projects that represent his continuing musical growth and impact.

There's "Shimmer," his new LP that expands comfortably and confidently on his well-honed palette of techno, house, trap and chillwave beats and that will be released Friday.

And then there are the five tracks he contributed to "The Outlaw Ocean Music Project," a collection of music gathered by New York Times investigative reporter Ian Urbina. The project was inspired by a Times series and book, "The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier," by Urbina about human rights, labor and environmental crimes at sea.

"He's an unusually talented guy," Urbina says of Yuni. "He's very daring. His music is really distinct and very layered and it feels like it took a lot of thought to produce. I was listening to him before I recruited him for this. I'm a fan."

“Shimmer” is the latest album by Little Rock electronic composer Yuni Wa.
“Shimmer” is the latest album by Little Rock electronic composer Yuni Wa.

"Shimmer" is the follow-up to 2020's "Context 4" album and finds Yuni, born Princeton Coleman, reflecting on these troubled times and dealing with personal issues.

"I had a lot going on," he says. "I was in a wreck that had me kind of shaken."

He wasn't hurt, but his Honda Civic — the first car he'd ever owned — was totaled in a crash earlier this year.

Afterward, he says, "I spent a lot of time in the house and I came up with 'Shimmer.'"

The album opens with "Coming of Age," which sounds like the theme to a galactic trip; the pulsating "Star System Heartbreak" expounds on the outer space vibes and "Surround Sound Voyage" has an icy, futuristic disco feel. "The Program" begins with a sweet piano before merging with fuzzy, '80s synths and drumbeats.

Penultimate track "Playing in the Street" is a hypnotic combination of a repetitive beat and wheezing, calliope-like keyboards.

"It's got a lot of different sounds," Yuni says of the project. "I play a lot of piano on it. It's coming from a really dark time for myself, but I was still making music. The idea was to really strive to put out the best music even at my lowest."

Yuni Wa — a take on the Japanese term "yuniba-saru," which means universal, has found solace in music since he was 12 and composing songs at the Billy Mitchell Boys and Girls Club in Little Rock.

"On Fridays the studio was open at the boys and girls club and I'd go in and I'd make something. Over time, it began to feel special and I felt relief. It's hard to articulate, but it feels so wonderful. It's something you put into the world and it brings you peace and people will feel that on their end, too."

Yuni funded "Shimmer" through Sound Royalties, a firm that advances money to recording artists against future royalties.

"They financed me with terms that are more favorable than some major label contracts," he says. "It was really helpful."

“Liberation,” by Little Rock musician Yuni Wa, is part of the Outlaw Oceans Music Project. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Outlaw Oceans Music Project)
“Liberation,” by Little Rock musician Yuni Wa, is part of the Outlaw Oceans Music Project. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Outlaw Oceans Music Project)

Urbina's "Outlaw Ocean Music Project" is a unique collaboration of music and investigative journalism that began a little more than a year ago. The reporter has gathered more than 500 musicians from dozens of countries to contribute to the project in genres ranging from classical ambient, hip-hop, techno and others.

The recordings, which sometimes include audio samples from the reporting, are a way to help get the stories out to people who may not read The New Yorker or The New York Times, Urbina says.

"That curiosity is the on-ramp into the journalism," he says. "People hear something and then go looking to find out what's up with this song or the project and lo and behold, they're reading the story. We know it works."

Part of the proceeds from the music goes to fund the nonprofit project and its reporting on lawlessness at sea including illegal fishing, arms trafficking, slavery and other concerns, Urbina says.

For information, visit theoutlawoceanmusic.com.

Yuni's five-track EP "Liberation" is the latest addition to the collection and was released earlier this month. Each of its songs are inspired by the project's investigation of pollution in the west African nation of Gambia.

He deftly weaves samples from interviews and other recordings made during the reporting process into some of the tracks. It's something he's done in the past, patching dialogue from anime films and other sources into his compositions, and it is perfectly seamless and effective here.

"I try to make my music as universal as possible," Yuni says at the project's website. "I'm making it so everyone can feel this music no matter where you come from. I want people to understand that I make music for projects like this because as a musician, I have a platform. Music has always played a very active role in human rights affairs and politics and my music from this project is a symbol of the solidarity I have with the people of Gambia."

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