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First Play: Cold Specks, Fool's Paradise

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Holly Gordon

“Three words: grown-ass woman. That's it. I do what I feel like, when I feel like doing it. And that's a beautiful thing.”

Ladan Hussein laughed a little when q guest host Ali Hassan asked that she describe herself during an interview in August, but her conviction was clear. Through Hussein’s sparse folk on 2012’s I Predict a Graceful Expulsion and 2014’s more textured Neuroplasticity — each shortlisted and longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize, respectively — we were introduced to an artist whose “doom soul” music was self-encompassing, living separate from the woman who made it. During those early years, Hussein used both a band name — Cold Specks — and a pseudonym — Al Spyx — for her music in public.

With 2017’s Fool’s Paradise, Hussein is using her full name on her music for the first time, celebrating her Somali–Canadian heritage and confidently laying herself out on the album's 10 tracks.

“I feel as though I maybe felt unsafe in the music industry with a name like Ladan Hussein,” she explains. “Since 2001, my name has always been misspelled with an ‘e’ instead of an ‘a’ — ‘l-a-d-a-n,’ is my name. I might have felt like I wasn't going to achieve the kind of success I wanted to achieve as a young woman coming into this industry, so I hid. And I hid for many years, which is very sad and I hope that young people from my community, from other communities never have to feel that way in 2017 in the music industry ... I wasn't comfortable in my own skin in the music industry.”

Hussein says it took many years — some of those living outside her homebase of Toronto — to figure it out.

“I lived away for so many years, moving back to Toronto was definitely helpful,” she says. “I'm one of seven kids, I have endless cousins in this city, aunts and uncles. We're all in Etobicoke, Rexdale, Weston. Just being around my community again and my family and having this support system definitely allowed for the love to flow.”

You’ll still recognize the Cold Specks on Fool’s Paradise — Hussein’s voice is arresting, unmistakable — but she’s taking more chances, both musically and personally. “I’ll be there for you/ don’t know why,” she sings on the album’s first single, “Wild Card” — “It's a love song to my mother,” she explains — and on the title track, you’ll hear Hussein sing in Somali for the first time. “Kala garo naftaada iyo laftaada,” she sings, which means “understand the difference between your bones and your soul.”

While touring in Australia for Neuroplasticity, Hussein discovered that her father helped found a famous Somali band called Iftin, in the 1970s. She dove into VHS recordings she found of the band's performances, and that family effect is evident on Fool's Paradise. The title track's synth and bass are heavily influenced by songs from her father’s era — something that also comes through in "Void." The closing track, "Exile," is a fitting conclusion, with harmonies, synth, and bass wrapping around Hussein's voice as she sings, "Revel in all you know/ dreams of a home I've never known/ blown away in the fading light/ devil by my side." Silence at the end of that song leads into Hooyo's Prayer, a prayer in Somali from Hussein's mother, "sampled with permission by my stunning queen Anab Jafar," as she says in the liner notes.

Fool's Paradise is a family-influenced affair, but above all it's Ladan Hussein at her rawest, most individual form yet — and the result is stunning.

Fool's Paradise will be released Sept. 22 via Arts & Crafts. Pre-order it here.