Discovery and understanding are tenets of the work of Witch Prophet, aka Ethiopian-Eritrean Canadian musician Ayo Leilani. Her 2020 album DNA Activation was a prism reflecting the range of the African diaspora experience. On her third album, Gateway Experience, the Toronto-based artist delves into her own mind, tracing her experiential cycle arising from temporal lobe seizures. “This is a dream,” Leilani incants over the lapping waves of “Lucid.” The opening track is a hypnotic portal into the album’s exploration of dream states, memory issues, and out-of-body experiences. Even “Energy Vampire,” on which DillanPonders raps over a churning beat, refers to beings that appear in Leilani’s nightmares and trigger her seizures.
At the same time, Gateway Experience is inviting. Jazzy, low-tempo beats, gauzy electronics, and comforting harmonies induce calm. When Leilani sings, “Floating just above my body … I love watching the world go by from a bird’s eye view” on “Bird’s Eye View (O.B.E.),” she sounds sincere. On “I’m Sad,” Gateway Experience’s most overt moment of distress, she finds stillness amid hanging piano chords and feather-light violin. Leilani pulls several collaborators into her realm. Begonia’s and Zaki Ibrahim’s velvety vocals, as well as SATE’s spoken voice, fit perfectly into Gateway Experience’s soundscapes, conjured by Leilani’s wife, producer SUN SUN. Junia T lends a hand as coproducer on “Dreaming.”
Gateway Experience presents possibility. Despite the murk of symptoms including déjà vu and hallucinations, Witch Prophet makes it clear that by understanding the connection between the body and the mind, one can grasp some control in a bid for physical and mental autonomy.