Best New Music: Aya Nakamura threads desire & commitment on “Cherie”
Best New Music: Aya Nakamura threads desire & commitment on “Cherie”

Best New Music: Aya Nakamura threads desire & commitment on “Cherie”

The new standout addition to her early 2023 album, 'DNK'

For Aya Nakamura—or at least in her music—desire makes the world go round. Dating all the way back to her debut album, ‘Journal Intime’, the Malian-French singer has been fiddling with the thread that connects libidinous urges and smouldering affection, swinging between the candy-coated allure of giving into sweet nothings and the steamy edge of being an incredibly attractive woman. Ultimately, her ethos is agency.


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The cliché is that romantic yearning can be all-consuming, which is true to an extent, but that ideal doesn’t always take into account the nuance of choice. Liking a person is easy, not so much for reciprocity, and even harder than that can be defining a situation instead of running on vibes. The latter wrinkle is where the evolution of Aya Nakamura is evident, especially on her early 2023 album, ‘DNK’. Across earlier albums, she sang of reciprocity in straightforward, innately sensual, and utterly efficient ways, the intoxicating essence of her husky voice muscling over vibrant musical choices in contemporary Afropop—from Africa to the Black European diaspora.

For ‘DNK’, she leaned a lot more on Zouk-Love, a subgenre that’s more impactful on Afrobeats than many listeners know. While the album is far from homogenous, the consistent centre of a singular sonic style is different from the scattershot verve of previous albums, and Aya Nakamura hugs those part-silky, part-rubbery grooves with some of her best writing and singing performances yet. On “Chérie,” one of the three songs added to the new deluxe edition of ‘DNK’, she relishes the full control she has over a romantic situation.

The narrative is simple: A guy likes her and wants to commit, she enjoys the effects she has on him even though he’s being warned that it might be a rollercoaster ride. It’s the Cleopatra effect, and the execution is effortlessly stunning. Sung entirely in French, the intense devotion she inspires in her love interest is obvious, even if your grasp on the language is rudimentary. It’s also a plus that Aya Nakamura is singing in the consensus language or romantic love.

“C’est dans tes bras que tu veux que j’m’endorme/attention, c’est dangereux, attention,” she sings on the pre-chorus, a line that, through my entry-level Duolingo ears translates as, “You want me to fall asleep in your arms/be careful, that’s dangerous.” There’s a trace of mischief in her voice, knowing that she’s setting the terms of engagement. In a way, “Chérie” feels like a self-given rejoinder to “Baby,” the standout single off the original 15-track edition of ‘DNK’. On that fairly older song, she lays out her frustration with a romantic situation where her interest acts lovestruck but consistently keeps the conversation about commitment at bay.

As many people who’ve ever been in a situationship will tell you, “going with the flow” is a recipe for tragedy. Not that every situation should be entered with an immediate mission, but there’s a phase where decisions need to be made for emotional clarity. “Chérie” is a playful approach to that point, and it can even be read as a coy attempt at being sure it goes beyond the infatuation-drunk, honeymoon period. “Je veux juste te faire confiance (I just want to trust you),” she sings over Kimo and Silly raiito’s snappy drums and the neon glow of whistling synths.

Regardless of what perspective resonates with each listener, whether through the singer’s courted eyes or as the interest making the initial advances, desire and commitment are universal themes. Aya Nakamura adds a layer of narrative specificity that makes “Chérie” not just a wondrous listen, but also a gleaming gem in a catalogue full of them.