MYSTIQUE AND NON-MAGIC: ON BRYMO AND YEMI ALADE’S NEW MUSIC

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Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

 

Yemi Alade’s Non-magic

After going around the continent on her last album, Yemi Alade appears to have settled down in Nigeria for Black Magic. At least, before the deluxe version which features Awilo Longomba.
Black Magic deploys Igbo highlife elements on “Kpirim”. She is still invested in pidgin. There is Yoruba rapper Olamide on “Jantolo”. The reduction in scope gives the newer album focus, but as before, the Yemi Alade idea still is to cover geographical ground without giving the music and lyrics as much consideration.

The aforementioned “Kpirim” lifts and dumps Igbo highlife with neither modernisation nor innovation. Her vocals remain glossy but without character. The lyrics are better forgotten. There is none of the energy that she brings onstage. The recent single “Bum Bum” has all of those drawbacks but its percussion-heavy dancehall production means it has club potential. It is one of those songs you have to dance to.

On her previous album, Miss Alade had kept a lid on her sexuality, producing songs that talked about materialism without hinting at the cost of those Ferraris and Bugattis. Here, she has a song “Mr. Stamina” that while coy at least tells of female desire. It harks back to some of her older R&B songs. A proper R&B song “Yaba Left” is one of the album’s better cuts. She resorts to such tired formulations to “My temperature dey high” but even so the lazy songwriting cannot quite ruin the song.

Considering the Yemi Alade catalogue, it is clear that Yemi Alade might be more devoted to American music than the traditional sounds of her country and continent. She might have succeeded in combining both on “Johnny” but few of her more traditional songs show as much heart as that hit song.

So, it is perhaps no surprise that one of the better songs on Black Magic “Wonder Woman” is a slow-burn trap song produced by Falz collaborator Sess. The song presents one of the moments in the Yemi Alade discography where her social concerns work with her love for material success without producing a disproving shake of the head.

The presence of songs like “Talku Talku”, “Bread Butter” and even the Olamide-featured track “Jantolo” bloats this 15-track album. The deluxe version released this year adds more songs. These extra tracks don’t do a lot for the quality of the album but it does mean that there is space for “Go Down”, one of only two worthy songs that from Miss Alade since the success of “Johnny”. (The other song is “Charliee”.) Maybe if both “Go Down” and “Charliee” made this album, that “magic” in the title would actually mean more. As it is, the album has too little that is magical.

Heya: Why is Brymo naked?
Half of the benefit to being Brymo is the aura of his mystique. The other half is the benefit of doubt that his mystique provides him.

A version of the confusion between both halves played out this morning, upon the release of the video for “Heya”, the first single off Brymo’s new album Oso. On social media, many said he was mad. Many others, either because they are Brymo devotees or because they were afraid of being called shallow, said it was an expression of something profound.

My suspicion is that none of these interpretations matters. The only thing that matters is the buzz. And in that case, mission accomplished. I’m even writing a piece on it.

For years, Brymo has worked outside of the mainstream pop space, and by hard work and cunning he has managed to bring his work to the attention of those who just might connect. His hard work has led to six studio albums and a compilation work since his 2012 sophomore Son of a Kapenta. In between he has worked on soundtracks for film and stage; he has also released a few album-less singles. That is some production comparable to his prolific rap colleague Olamide.

As for evidence of Brymo’s cunning, look no further than the title of his last album.

It is worth remembering that it was titled Klitoris, an obvious stylisation of the female private part. At the time of that album’s release, not a few people were aghast. I recall a friend on Facebook asking how one could vocalise a request for the album from a lady.

As with the response to the new music video “Heya”, some bought the nonsense that the title “Klitoris” was an expression of sensitivity, a metaphor for extra-feeling perhaps. Others didn’t. Once the album was heard proper no one thought of that title anymore. In a project comprising many good songs, the title track was ignored. Perhaps aware of the limit to his own stunt, Brymo did not bother releasing a music video for that song. The gimmicky title had used up its usefulness and could be discarded.

The gimmickry has been repeated again. The focus is human anatomy still, but instead of woman and words, Brymo has switched to man and video. In keeping with the times, he is using newer technology and avoiding the objectification of women.

Unfortunately, unlike Klitoris, a quite admirable album, “Heya”, for which Brymo goes naked, isn’t quite as good a song. The sobriety of the piano chords seems to my mind aiming for an artful seriousness that Brymo’s lyrics do not match. And Brymo is aware part of the noise and many-splendoured interpretations attending his nakedness is based on the idea of his mystique. His mystery partly shields him from ridicule when you consider some of the song’s sentiments:
“You no go hear the people say na our ignorance dey make life hard.”

“Some dey walk and some dey talk and time just dey pass us by.”
These are by no means the worst lines ever written by a Nigerian musician, but for a songwriter of Brymo’s powers, the lyrics to ‘Heya’ are not worth his strip-tease.

Indeed, the word “stripping” clearly contains Brymo’s conceit. The video shows semi-scorched earth, and Brymo’s singing is backed only by piano. In other words, we are shown an artist stripping his music and its video’s landscape to the basics. To be at one with his music, Brymo strips off his clothing. But it is needless because not only are the lyrics undeserving of such “depth”, but also because the video’s creative direction doesn’t push far enough. For one, Brymo could be full-on naked and his privates hidden by a clever camera. And the video’s colour defeats the idea of Brymo’s elemental artistry.

This last is unforgivably intrusive because if the music video was released in black and white, “Heya” would achieve a higher level of stripped-down verisimilitude as he clearly hoped for. This would hardly take away from the fact of the video’s gimmickry but at least it would be a lot easier to say both Brymo and his music video director thought hard about their decision.

To see how a Brymo music video emphasises its lyrics, re-watch “Down”, where a lone Brymo seats on what appears an upturned mortar and relates a story of a corrupt small town. The noirish setting and close-up shots of the artist’s face tell the viewer that “Down” is a mystery tale intimately told. Another example is the video for “One Pound”: A song about Lagos sees Brymo do away with a musician’s ego, as he cedes an artist’s dominance of his own music video to the city.

Those were better songs and thoughtful videos. “Heya” is an inferior Brymo song and a gimmicky video. But it has achieved its main function: It has given Brymo buzz upon the release of his new album Oso. It recalls a line from 50 Cent rap verse about an old De Angelo video: “That nigga went butt-ass for his record to sell.”

As with the title Klitoris before it, Brymo’s butt-nakedness has drummed up attention for an artist without the machinery and budget for massive publicity.

It is clever marketing and not much else. Gimmickry might turn into self-parody quick, but Brymo should be fine. His mystique covers a multitude of misjudgements.

––Aigbokhaevbolo, the West African editor of MusicInAfrica, writes from Lagos