Nathalie Joachim Delves into Heritage and Cultural Memory on “Ki moun ou ye”

On Ki moun ou ye, Grammy-nominated musician and composer Nathalie Joachim chronicles the beauty of self-discovery, juxtaposing the things we continue to seek with the aspects of ourselves that we wouldn’t dare to question. Out Feb. 16 via a partnership between Nonesuch and New Amsterdam Records, Joachim’s sophomore album eschews compartmentalization to create a bold tapestry of her most fundamental influences. Continuing the journey initiated by her debut album Fanm d’Ayiti (2019), Ki moun ou ye offers an intricate portrait of Joachim’s personal history and Haitian heritage.

Joachim serves as composer, vocalist, and flutist on the album, and while these skills come from different parts of her musical upbringing, she creates space to highlight each of them authentically. When singing about the fragility of a person’s hidden wounds on “Kouti yo” (“stitches”), the pleading tone of her voice is brimming with compassion. Her vocals are also at the heart of the dreamy, laidback ballad “Renmen m plis,” inspired by feelings of love and community. Meanwhile, a callback to her classical training appears in “Fil,” a short, 55-second interlude with a tender melody shared between Joachim on flute and Yvonne Lam on violin and viola.

With any deeply personal project, the last thing an artist wants is to be misunderstood. And while Joachim makes it clear that the process of making the album was a vehicle for better understanding her own identity, the inclusion of detailed track-by-track liner notes removes any ambiguity around the intent, origin, and emotion behind each piece.

The album’s lyrics are a mixture of English and Haitian Creole, utilizing the layered meanings of the latter to uncover personal truths. The titular track, which translates to “who are you,” features Joachim’s soaring vocals over a stuttering electronic beat. Through the questioning refrains of “ki moun ou ye” and “who once owned us,” the piece invites the listener to contemplate their own sense of identity and make further inquiries into their origins. The opening track also introduces a synthesis of electronic and acoustic sounds that permeates the album — a signature aspect of Joachim’s compositional style. The presence of strings brings a rich, brooding character to the overall texture, which softens the skittishness of the underlying beat.

Notable for its punchy synth beat, “Nan kò mwen” is the “only song on the record that is angry at all,” according to the liner notes. Despite coming from a place of anger and generational trauma, Joachim’s voice is bright and spotless, even at the most climactic points, which allows her to mold feelings of pain and suffering into the healing journey this album sets out to be.

Nathalie Joachim -- Photo by Erin Patrice O'Brien

Nathalie Joachim — Photo by Erin Patrice O’Brien

“Zetwal,” the whimsical album closer, ended up being an unexpected source of relief for Joachim; the track was composed at the request of her managers, who wanted something a bit more “uplifting” to balance the project. While that wasn’t necessarily what she felt like writing at the time, the warm love song turned out to be therapeutic, and its serene vocal harmonies, laidback drums, and delicate flute lines aren’t such a stark departure from most of the other tracks.

Although Joachim often rejects the imposed dichotomy between her Haitian identity and her classical training, she also grapples with it openly. This relationship is explored in “Nwa,” a moody track with a sporadic flute melody over tempestuous electronic swells. The dissonance of the flute and the clanging percussion mirror the inner turmoil that comes with dedicating your life to something that now feels at odds with your essence. With much more edge than the one “angry” song on the album, “Nwa” hints at a more complex emotional process as Joachim untangles parts of herself that are seemingly in conflict.

On this intimate ten-track project, Joachim finds deep meaning in cultural memory and self-acceptance while tackling the dissonance between heritage and craft that so many Black artists face. The listener comes away with a strong sense of who Joachim is – and an understanding that this inner confidence has been a process of becoming.


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