by Tolu Ogunlesi
(originally written in December 2009)
Full Disclosure: I love every one of these songs; and think you should too 🙂
1. SOTE – The Pulse
‘Sote’ as a word is the Nigerian pidgin equivalent of the phrase “so much so that…” Sote, from the time you hear it, haunts you, so that you have to listen to it again and again. It’s many things: protest song, lamenting the mess Nigeria is in; prayer, seeking divine intervention, and prophecy, envisioning a Nigeria in which “Christian and Moslem go pray together sote… armed robber go return im money sote, limousine go be Naija taxi… pikin go breastfeed Mama…” It’s also a deeply political song, there’s a reference to America’s misadventure in Kabul. But the message seeps slowly, yielding a deeper level of meaning each time you listen. I already have listened perhaps a hundred times, and still can’t stop. ‘The Pulse’ is a musical group (vocalists and instrumentalists) that won the 2009 Star Quest music talent show, and Sote is its debut single.
2. TODAY NA TODAY – Omawumi Megbele
Omawumi blows my mind. Always. I fell in love with her when I first heard her debut single, the irresistibly energetic ‘In the Music’ (which was heavily influenced by South African rhythms, sounding just like something Yvonne Chaka Chaka would do – in the 21st century). And now, with Today na today, which I consider her hottest song right now (she’s just released her debut album); Omawumi’s shown she’s no fluke. Her vocal skills are impressive, and she does sensual the way it should be done; but what lifts her above her contemporaries is her confidence, oozing recklessly from every line of her songs. It doesn’t matter if you’re a panel beater, or even a bank manager, whatever you may be, today na today… groove we must, all night long, until the break of day, is Omawumi’s message. And you have no choice, really. You can’t but surrender your head and feet and arms to this hot Niger delta girl!
3. BUMPER TO BUMBER – Wande Coal
in November 2009 M2M was voted as Nigeria’s Album of the Year, on the popular internet discussion forum Nairaland. M2M is one album from which you will effortlessly fish out hit track upon hit track. Bumper to bumper is artful music, riding on the idea of Lagos’ perennial traffic jams [“Bumper to bumper, when I stop make you stop, when I start make you start, (make you follow me)”] while masterfully suggesting something else entirely (“come follow me spend my money”), just like Grandmaster D’Banj would have done it. And this is one song that effortlessly creates its own dance. Wande Coal is a super talent, and bumper to bumper is set to continue rocking – and rearranging – dance floors well into the future.
4. STRONG THING – Banky W
Mr. Capable is still showing no signs of incapability. Strong thing takes Banky’s trademark voice (the one with which he captured us in his cover of Rihanna’s Umbrella), and wraps it up in a melody as haunting as it is beautiful. Strong thing is that classic love song – a tribute to a love so overwhelming, sometimes words struggle to be useful: “Omo you dey make my heart go – gbin gbin / Make me wanna – sing sing / Baby o, she dey do me strong thing…”
5. FILE BE – Jay Won
Non Yoruba speakers might wonder if there’s any linguistic relationship between the D’Banjesque phrase “File” and Jay Won’s “File be.” Er, kinda. “File” is “leave it!” or “don’t touch”; “File be” is merely a more verbose way of saying the same thing: “Leave it as it is!” And that’s precisely what Jaywon seems to be telling all haters: ‘Leave me alone, I’m only doing what I know how to do’. And he does this with all the swagger and brashness that he can muster. Plus, a lot of it is in Yoruba (there’s a rap in pidgin), which means he can deploy meanings that the English language would struggle to express, and play on words in that arresting manner that indigenous languages allow so well (see 9ice): “File be, je ko wa n be, ma a lo be, omo tiibe.” Many ways of saying the same thing. Hear, haters, hear!
6. DANGER – P Square
The Twins have done it again! Kicking off with a refrain of “Wahala dey”, you are instantly curious to know what it is these guys know that you don’t. And then it dawns on you that P-Square is the “danger” that P-Square wants to alert the world about. This is another song dedicated to unnamed haters: “If them dey talk our agenda / Make them go check our calendar / Na different countries we dey enter / From January to December / Omo, wahala dey…” These guys know they’re dangerous, and they are proud to noise it from the rooftops, so all the haters can steer clear. And they will make you dance hard while they’re at it!
7. GBAMU GBAMU – 9ICE
“WHO BORN THIS MAN?????? ABEG!” was the rhetorical response of a You Tube commentator, to this song. You can’t put it any better. Only a few artistes manage to ‘copyright’ a style – and 9ice is one of them, with his standout voice and lyrics deeply rooted in Yoruba philosophy and worldview. Gbamu Gbamu is from his latest, much-awaited album, Tradition. Switching effortlessly between Yoruba, Yoruba-inflected English and pidgin, 9ice is perfectly in charge of his territory. You get the feeling of listening to a musician who’s getting as much fun as he’s giving you. “The more you see, the less you know,” 9ice sings. The more you hear, the more you want to know what this guy’s been smoking!
8. SOPE TIE – Beanpole
Turn the volume to the highest, roll out the champagne, clear out the room, invite the boyz and girlz and “sope tie” with reckless abandon. “Sope tie” is cool-speak for “Give all the thanks!” “No matter wetin you get, just give all the thanks!” Sope tie is equal parts celebration (“now our CDs don dey sell”) and censure (“enemies wey dey vex, go jump for well”), and before long you’ll be singing along lustily, drowning merrily in the upbeatness of it all.
9. SOBOLATION – Lagbaja
The Masked One, whose stage name means “somebody, nobody, anybody or everybody” unmasks his voice again, four years after his last album. But his meaning remains masked: ‘Sobolation’, and the constant refrains of ‘sobo’ in the song are about as cryptic as it gets. Lagbaja, talented instrumentalist, treats us to his trademark masterful instrumentation – sax solos, traditional drums, rich bassline; and the playful energy packed into the vocals.
10. YORI YORI – Bracket
You can imagine how I felt when, on a cold morning in Nairobi, at the beginning of August this year, Yori Yori floated out of the speakers of a Kenyan taxi cab and hit me smack in the face. Bracket, the duo behind the club banger have since confessed that they had no idea they would blow this big, which explains why their album (the second) bears the title ‘Least Expected’. A friend once told me he always felt a strange helplessness in the face of Yori Yori. Weird, ‘cos I always feel that way too. The first time I heard it, in a CD compilation, I knew that this was a song that had to accompany me into the future. Yori Yori, the love song of 2009, never fails to hypnotise.
Text (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2009 / All videos courtesy of YouTube