Of the Yoruba deities who have crossed the Atlantic from West Africa to Latin America, Oxum is one of the most important. The only woman of the original 17 divine orisha figures to populate the Earth, and she is also the only one in myth to successfully bring the planet to life and keep it that way.
“Oxum is the deity of fresh water,” explains Emilie Basez of Austin-based Ley Line, a group that draws on Brazilian, West African, and North American traditions to explore new aspects of acoustic folk music. “In Afro-Brazilian religion, Oxum dances in a gold dress, twirling with a hand mirror to gaze at her beauty. She is the symbol of the force that gives life and represents love, beauty, fertility, and sensuality.”
As Ley Line’s new single “Oxum” begins, the life and loveliness that flows through it are palpable. A fast-paced chant opens the song, as does the traditional Brazilian zabumba bass drum. Basez, Kate Robberson, Madeleine Froncek, and Lydia Froncek sing harmonies both soothing and invigorating, at times rushing like streams and at others moving with the immovable strength of an ocean current. As they do, they embody the multicultural perspective that defines their output.
“Not only does [‘Oxum’] include three languages, Yoruba, Spanish, and English,” the group notes, “it also has musical elements from and around the world… [the zabumba] plays a popular Brazilian beat called Forró, while the West African rhythmic influence can be heard in the chékere and polyrhythmic drumming that builds toward the end of the song. The classical guitar ties in the Latin influence, while the upright bass holds down a dance beat reminiscent of American funk music.”
It’s a thorough analysis of a song that is, for all its parts, simple and globally applicable in its lyrical and sonic appeal. The question at the song’s core, tied up in traditional folk lyrics and original poetry, is a clear one, if existential: “Why do we hurt you so when we need you / Sweet water?”
This past year has been huge for the women of Ley Line. Playing festival after festival, slated for the upcoming Austin City Limits Music Festival on 13 October, and preparing to release their sophomore full-length album in the rapidly approaching spring, they have a full and wondrous road ahead of them. Ley Line intend to make it count, partnering with organizations Save Our Springs Alliance and Colorado River Alliance to further advocate for clean water. “Oxum” is an aural connection between culture and nature, a musical soundscape made with creative brilliance and hope for a sustainable future.
“Oxum” comes out 19 September, with a single release show at Austin’s Cactus Café that night.