Amenta Abioto is unlike any other artist in town. Having made a name for herself performing improvised sets with her looping machine, Abioto’s music has blossomed like a humble but impressive garden.
“I’ve definitely gotten a lot more structured in my presentation,” she says. Nowadays Abioto only includes a couple of improvised songs in her performances. Since she has no bandmates, she never writes a setlist—she just goes with the flow.
“I’m using more equipment, different types of gear,” she explains. “[My] songwriting’s gotten tighter. I think my confidence has, too, and how I move onstage is more fluid—it’s just more me.”
Perhaps another reason Abioto slays every show is because she doesn’t subscribe to any one genre. When asked about her forthcoming album, she says, “It’ll be very genre-everywhere: synthy, rocky, soul, hip-hop. ’Cause that’s how I do. I appreciate music—all music elements that I can bring into my own creation.”
I’d say that Abioto’s music is best enjoyed live, but until recently, that’s basically been the only way to experience her work. Despite landing at number four on Willamette Week’s Best New Band list in 2018 and having gained plenty of respect for her kickass live act, Abioto only has a couple of tracks available to stream online, and until recently, she hadn’t released a single music video.
That changed when she was approached by Sarah Baker of Boogie Buffet Productions, who was interested in producing the music video for Abioto’s upcoming single “Plant It.” Abioto wrote the song while she was visiting the Bay Area and says it’s about “that amazing link between humans and nature and how beautiful things can manifest through that connection,” as well as “nurturing your dreams, manifesting your ideas, and taking care of them.”
“I was working with someone who had a residency there and so we were working on this piece together,” she explains. “The beach was right across and there was all this nature... I saw coyotes, and that’s where I did a lot of writing.”
The music video for “Plant It” has a magical, earthy vibe; it’s obvious the song was also inspired by what Abioto calls “spirit journeys,” Shamanism, and working with crystals and plants. Made by a team that included Vaughn Kimmons (Brown Calculus, Tribe Mars) as stylist, the video sees Abioto decked out in jewelry, a vintage wedding dress, and a slow-crawling chameleon. It’s beautifully shot and edited, and the fact Abioto has a background in theater and dance helps create an even more polished result.
Abioto always sings right from her guts, making her raw, soulful performances of songs like the still-unreleased “Revolution” feel like a war cry. It’s no wonder Abioto says she “feels like the ’70s” when performing it; its thumping beat, guitar, and bass create a retro backdrop for her lyrics. As she sings “Revolution/I feel it in the air,” her words resonate in the heart of every progressive-minded concertgoer, giving chills to everyone within earshot, as well as an overwhelming feeling of collective responsibility, determination, and hope. Or at least that’s how I feel when she sings it. “Oh, it feels super powerful,” Abioto says. “I used to do so much more talking to the audience about political stuff and things that are going on, so just having that song kind of helps me to communicate that in an entertaining way.” Listening to her perform tracks like “Plant It,” “Wade,” and “Kujichagulia,” which are infused with African-inspired sounds, can have a therapeutic effect, especially for Black Portlanders who might feel disconnected from their roots.
Speaking of roots, there’ll be plants (of course) at the music video release show for “Plant It,” with a lineup that also features Brown Calculus and psychedelic cumbia outfit Orquestra Pacifico Tropical. Abioto doesn’t plan to drop her debut album until next fall, but tells me that after her “Plant It” show, she’s got a recording of “Revolution” cookin’ on the back burner.
I’ve caught a handful of Abioto’s stellar sets over the last couple of years, where she’s won over crowds at venues like Post 134, Mississippi Studios, Valentine’s, and Holocene. Watching her build her songs live—masterfully humming, singing, and looping melodies—it becomes abundantly clear how lucky Portland is to have Amenta Abioto, a local voice of the revolution.