The small room began to fill-up, guests streaming in ones-twos-threes. Its weight, strong enough to carry incoming substance– yes, substance- writers and critics of repute settled in (Prof. ‘Niyi Osundare, Tade Ipadeola, Jumoke Verissimo)– held by four walls cuddling a rock-strewn base. The building overlooking a railroad was all the more metaphoric for the wordsmiths who bore tales of their many adventures. Unlike the character of a small room, the air was the opposite of suffocating—it was easy, inviting, and you could breathe in words in their purest form.
“Let our words arise/From this millennial slumber of disuse/Like mournful ghosts and vengeful spirits/Our words merge/converge/ENLARGE/D-I-S-C-H-A-R-G-E/Words, more heads than a million hydrae”
After book readings from Seun Odukoya and Gabriel Bamgbose, and an interactive session anchored by one of the curators of Artmopshere, music welcomed Beautiful Nubia with applause and smiles. I have always wanted to attend a Beautiful Nubia concert or at least a spoken word event of his. So, this time, my excitement was overtaken by boyhood memories—thousand others also woke to Owuro L’ojo played on radio and TV stations across Ìbàdàn, his (and my) hometown. His magnum opus, Jangbalajùgbú, was a staple amongst South-Westerners throughout early 2000s, and it still is—a healthy addition to their àmàlà + àbùlà daily treat.
Beautiful Nubia opened his set recollecting events surrounding his childhood in the ancient city, consciously punctuating his musical performances with poetry and a sprinkling of his works’ birthing process. His recital of the poem, Words, broke open for Ìrètí Ògo and Lékeléke, two songs off his latest album Soundbender.
On Ìrètí Ògo, his Christ Apostolic Church-upbringing becomes heavy influence for the Gospel track. You could visualize a choir clad in purple and wine robes taking this special number on a Sunday morning with an almost robotic one-step-to-the-right, two-steps-to-the-left dance routine. The song’s opening keys extend arms to receive listeners to a mellifluous experience. Still in your thoughts, you could picture ‘Segun Akinlolu take the altar: Gbon’ra jigi, k’o duro gbagba (Shake off, stand firm)/Ma i da’wo duro, ore mi, ibere la wa o (Don’t relent and lose hope, my friend/It’s merely the beginning)/Tarasasa, ma se m’owo l’eran o (Don’t sit idly)/Baoku ise o tan o, l’awon agba nwi (As long as there is life, there is hope, so says our elders)… Ireti ogo re nbo wa d’ire (Your glorious hope won’t put you to shame). You won’t be wrong to call him a priest; his mum once thought (and still thinks) him one. Lékeléke brings back the feel of the now-rested Tales by Moonlight kids’ programme that aired on Nigerian Television Authority, or Jimi Solanke’s Fun Space that ran on Galaxy TV, or Wòrúoko on NTA Ibadan. It’s a mélange of Folk, Bàtá, Àpàlà; reminiscent of the era where kids listened raptly to àló àpamò/ àló àpagbè (proverbs) under the village tree, with words from the village poet or ‘wise’ (wo)man. That’s an era that is fast forgotten, like Beautiful Nubia quipped at the art event: The past influences the future every day. We as artists must visit the past. The traditional percussion beat the drums of wisdom as the mystical bird- the dove (although, lékeléke is commonly associated with the egret- dishes out food for thought—compassion for the poor, widows, orphans; and advice against greed.
These two songs performed at the art event water the appetite of any Folk follower, and serve as a worthy peek into the album.
Akawogbekun (loosely translated as ‘the thinker’), a cocktail of Soul and Jazz, continues the folklore essence, with tales of joys of labour, consequences of slothfulness and deceit, patience, vicissitudes of life, generosity, and death. The folklore-trend continues on the Afrobeat-influenced Abuke Oshin— a record bearing threads of the famous tortoise-snail-honour-deception-hatred tale. A respectable adaptation of the tortoise’s betrayal of the snail, following the latter’s honour by the king. The song ends in a prayer- Ibi ko ni wo’le eyin (Woe won’t befall your household).
Y’owo, the Alternative-Highlife mash, summarizes these tales and pleads for an end to evil as humanity risks extinction. Thomas Hobbes famously posited man’s innate evil, but this isn’t liberty to dismiss learning, law and order, and wisdom towards change and preservation of communal life.
Beautiful Nubia and the Roots Renaissance Band are outsiders in a world turned on its head. They cry out on Outsider– Here you stand with the drifters/Knowing nothing will turn the stream around/You’re the lone voice screaming out loud/But the people are deaf, seems like all is lost/But this surge of hope still carries on. Even though they seemed like a happy-go-lucky bunch on the album opener- Ara– they bear their pouch of worries, aches and hope, and keep Dreaming that Oya’s prophecy be true—E kede ayo ni gbangba, ojo idunnu l’ojo oni. Tales of hope are told in third person on Lights of Spain (So here we stand at the shore of hope). The Reggae-inspired track is one that details the migrant’s life through the pains and the horrors.
The contemporary nature of this song rings loudly in a continent that lost 3,419 of its own in 2014, according to the UNHCR. African migrants crossing the most lethal Mediterranean Sea-route in search of hope and a new life different from poverty, strife and war they’ve known for home. A frightening tale being told in honour of the over 150,000 migrants rescued from death on rickety boats or starvation and diseases at shore; the exodus told by Tolu Ogunlesi’s A Never-ending Flood. Eurocentrism, inferiority, slavery mentality illustrated by And I ask of the heavens above/Send me back to the world again/But next time let me be of lighter shade.
The 15-track album closes with Akojade, a track that has the markings of being conceived in a Yorùbá-speaking church—a hymnal/benediction to end a Sunday worship. On his 12th studio album, Beautiful Nubia lives up to the album title- Soundbender. He works his magic with the help of his band to blend Folk, Alternative, Highlife, Afrobeat, Spoken Word, Bata, Afro-Pop, Reggae, Gospel sounds to give one of the best sounding albums of the year. The musical release tells of the legend of ‘Segun Akinlolu, the UI-trained veterinary surgeon who abandoned his degree for a higher calling. He may not be the cassock-wearing preacher his mum wishes; still he has shown himself- over the years, either through music or poetry- to be a minister of wisdom to thousands. After all, a biblical figure once prophesied through a minstrel.
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