The foundation of Ahmad's new album Tea with Shadows was seeded in the singer-songwriter's childhood home in rural Pennsylvania. She refers to the experience -- immersing herself in her past and history -- as “greenhousing." With the support of her partner in music and in life, Mark Marshall, Ahmad laid down half the album’s tracks surrounded by nature, cultivating her ideas and giving them room to properly grow. This organic experiment blossomed into her unique species of genre-bending poetry, resulting in Tea with Shadows.
The album was recorded in all three homes in which Ahmad has lived or is deeply bound up with -- the empty spirit-filled house of her recently passed grandparents, her spacious childhood discovery den with a pond view, and her compressed and boisterous live/work Brooklyn apartment, which she and Marshall have called home for the last ten years. Is there something special about transforming a home into a recording studio and can music document life lived in a home? The intimacy of Ahmad’s output answers both questions with a resounding yes. Besides, the kind of work that she produced, ever so thoughtfully over time, is work that could not have contained itself in a weekend white-box studio session. Tea with Shadows needed time and the right space to germinate and, in turn, asks listeners to spend time -- with the lyrics, the sonic textures, and emotions unearthed by the earnest content explored in the powerful range of tracks.
Nothing is standard nor off-limits to Ahmad, as illuminated in the lead track to the album, “Find Out”. A prologue to the 13-track tangled narrative traversed by this soulful singer-songwriter, the song explores the compassionate part of one’s psyche: "Rest now, child / The tale, it is true / Self-subside / My aim is to kiss you." It embodies the cyclical nature of one’s own questions and thoughts, with a noticeable reverence for Kirtan chants and Arabic/South Asian classical music, in its repetitive refrain: "And we find out / And we find out." Ahmad boldly, yet tenderly, announces her desire to root and grow with listeners, as each song sprouts from its intimate core -- the exploration of the self and its shadow.
The first half of the album launches with the taunting ode “Bully”, followed by “Because”, “Counterfeit” “Belly and Heart” and “The Count" -- suggesting personal, yet universal, struggles with vulnerability, fears, anxiety and perception. These tunes push listeners just off-kilter enough to contemplate the weight of their message but are buoyed up by Ahmad’s intoxicating voice. “Wind”, “Somewhere In Between”, “Little Lies”, “High Diving” and “Nice Try” attempt to restore balance, clarity and compassion -- a reconciliation with one’s darkness.
“Say You Believe”, a second half standout, is Ahmad’s hopeful reflection on the time in which we’re living, where empathy is absolutely crucial during global crises. She considers herself a believer and urges listeners to believe -- in the capacity for understanding ourselves and one another. The album concludes with the title track "Tea with Shadows": "The monsters in your head / Invite them to your bed / Divorce the fear you’ve wed / And try some love instead." Ahmad whispers, lulling listeners into an unmistakable trance -- two lullabys bookend this profound work requiring listeners to, indeed, “sleep on it” and digest slowly, patiently, in the same spirit this collection of songs was created.