Lookman Adekunle Salami’s third album opens with the title track, an ambitious 10-minute rollercoaster of a song that peaks and dips and swerves and takes the listener’s breath away. It’s the foundation stone on which The Cause of Doubt & A Reason to Have Faith is built, a song that marks a renaissance in Lookman’s own life after a period of personal turbulence and, as is often the case with L.A. Salami, it asks big questions about where we are in the world right now, posed with philosophical wonder, with candor, with humour and with plenty of humanity.
This isn’t the music of a virtuoso: it’s explorative, daring, meditative and sometimes wild. For the first time, Lookman has embraced the world of multi-tracking, though the record still retains a raw energy and an integrity. Often it feels like anything can happen and that it probably will. “That's what I was going for!” says Lookman, sipping neat whiskey out of a tumbler in a Shoreditch bar as he contemplates this great new edition to his body of work. “I listen to a lot of polished music out there... I get it, but that's not my style. I'm not a good enough musician to be like that for a start! I like the idea of thoughtfully putting music together, but I also like the honesty of things almost falling apart.”
London-born Lookman spent years in foster care when he was growing up, and would put headphones on at night to listen to storytellers like Bob Dylan as a means of escape and as a voyage of discovery. He couldn’t afford to buy a guitar for himself until he was 21, which has perhaps informed his poetic, peripatetic, troubadour style. He subsumes the blues and rock and roll on The Cause of Doubt & A Reason to Have Faith, but thanks to his musical autodidacticism, he takes the songs to places new, throwing in influences from the worlds of hip-hop, ambient dance and unvarnished English folk along the way. It’s a glorious mishmash of styles that carries the inimitable Salamian stamp.
Lookman might be sui generis, but that hasn’t stopped others trying to reproduce his style. In America, where his music has been received enthusiastically, a legendary jazz recording company appeared to be courting him for a licensing deal, with A&Rs from the label attending up to six of his shows Stateside. The singer / songwriter was understandably flattered, but what transpired was unexpected even for an industry as venal and lacking in transparency as the music business. In a move that reflected the most cynical maneuverings of record executives, the label instead signed an American artist who seemed to assume the mannerisms and the distilled essence of L.A. Salami, with a moniker complete with two initials proceeding a three-syllable surname.
“I get what they were up to in terms of the coldheartedness of business,” says Lookman. “They took notes about my vibe and gave it to somebody else because it was more cost effective. It's business shit. It's why we use fossil fuels and why Donald Trump is probably going to get elected again this year. It's the same reason the NHS is slowly being sold off. It's business.” This odd experience formed the basis of ‘When You Play God (The 2018 Copyrite Blues)’, a song that perfectly captures the chaotic marriage of Salami’s musical abstract expressionist instincts and the indelible tunes that pin his creations down.
There are seven songs in all on The Cause of Doubt & A Reason To Have Faith, from the very personal (‘Thinking of Emiley’; ‘The Cage’) to the tongue-in-cheek (‘Dear Jessica Rabbit’), with a redux version of ‘The Talis-man on the Age of Glass’ that fits conceptually with the latest album and forms the perfect outro. Although not exactly a concept album, there are thematic threads and motifs that permeate the record, with a positive acclamation of oncoming rebirth as we pass through these benighted times.
“I feel we need to reassess what God was, and what God is,” says Lookman, who admits he would have described himself as an atheist a few years ago. While he’s not subscribing to the Judeo Christian idea of a deity, he feels we’ve lost a sense of guidance and morality with the absence of scriptures. “I don't mean God is a He who is going to judge you,” he says, “but if the human imagination is going to keep creating gods like the Internet, which we believed would unite us but has, in many ways, divided us, then perhaps there’s room for some concept of God. People do acupuncture or yoga… church was just the original version and psychotherapy is just another form of confession.”
With his unique way of seeing the world, does Lookman consider himself a storyteller first and foremost? “Yeah,” he says, before adding a more equivocal, “I dunno.” He thinks about it for a moment before clarifying: “I'd call myself a translator of emotions, as any artist should be. We're all just trying to communicate. Some people communicate through making buildings, some people communicate through pictures, some people communicate by being on Instagram...”
Lookman has translated a whole album of raw emotion and philosophical musings for your delectation, and where he’s been met with resistance in the past over certain tracks and ideas, The Cause of Doubt & A Reason To Have Faith is an album where he had complete creative control and every note and word is as he intended it to be. As a testament to a unique and thrilling talent, this record is a beacon of hope in troubled times and L.A. Salami’s most complete vision so far. In short: We need this record right now.