Album of the Day: A. Billi Free & Tensei, “I Luma”
By Chaka V. Grier · August 12, 2019

I Luma, the debut album from singer A. Billi Free (nee Billie Drakeford), combines a host of influences—alt R&B, electronic, hip-hop, and pop—to create an album about empowerment.

Free spent her childhood singing jazz and choral music and, as her album notes put it, has spent the last 10 years “in the deserts of southern New Mexico and west Texas fusing elements of both the city and the border into her sound.” In many ways, I Luma feels like a journey of self-discovery set to music. Lyrics encouraging empowerment are paired with funky, sensual rhythms, and frenetic beats. Opener “Flourish,” which features Angel Bat Dawid, is welcoming and enveloping, carried along by choir-like vocals. On “Against the Wall,” Free asks, “What would you do when your back’s against the wall?” She shifts from confrontation to affirmation on “Movement,” singing, “You’ve got to learn you, deeply / You’ve got to do you, completely.” And “Rushing In” is a song of joy and release, Free proclaiming, “I’m rushing into the sun / I’m rushing into the fun.” 

In the Samoan language, I Luma means “in front”; fittingly, composing and producing duo Roderick Jackson and Christopher Kramer, collectively known as Tensei, keep Free’s voice central in the mix and give her ample room to project purpose, confidence, and urgency. “No time to play around,” she sings on “Bold Heart,” a lush, seductive jazz number that could double as the album’s mission statement. “We know how to get lit / That’s not the point right now.” 

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