Album – Black Magic
Artist – Yemi Alade
Record Label – Effyzie (2017)
Duration – 63 minutes
How long can Yemi Alade continue down this path of mid-level music? How long can we all have to endure seeing such a talent be dumbed down to a point where there is nothing but tasteless attempts to make ‘African pop music’?
For the better part of three years, Yemi Alade has created and sustained a special brand of traditional pop culture dominance by attempting to create a brand of music of traditional African music. But it has created a huge array of polarization. Her music is created to be the least possible intellectual version, ever, with the singer admitting to ‘water down’ her lyrics for ‘dumb people’ to understand. That she lays claim to the title of “Mama Africa” and her considerable success with it, shows how powerful her portrayal of the culture, the continent’s music, and her people is. She just has to do it right.
On her first two albums, Alade carried it like a charm. Going into overdrive to sell love, affection and romance via basic imagery and subpar songwriting. “King Of Queens” worked due to the novelty of what she had embarked on, her energy, and the goodwill of Africans who simply wanted another lady to succeed. And to be honest, the presence of ‘Johnny’ made everything smooth. The record anchored that debut project, acting as support for some of its sonic relatives such as ‘Kissing’, ‘Tangerine’, and a few more.
The second album, “Mama Africa” was an extension of the first. Where she mined African passion for the first project, she struck gold with the branding for the second LP. Christening herself “Mama Africa”, improving on the branding, flooding the social spaces and TV with visuals, and marketing away from Nigeria, her home country reaped its rewards. She’s toured Europe, played big concerts in East Africa, won multiple awards, including the MAMA, and scored a lucrative deal with Shell for a campaign about inclusion and clean energy. Yemi Alade had it all so good.
But the voices of disapproval had grown. Yemi Alade’s music had not grown, neither has it matured. This is the music industry. To stand still is to creatively fall behind. While she ‘smiled to the bank’, the music did not feel the impact of that improvement. She carried on with the same formula, banking on the power of her celebrity, and the penetration from East Africa. In Nigeria, her home country, she had left the charts completely. The perception of her music had completely shifted, with enthusiasts publicly decrying her music skills.
“The thing about Nigeria is that the industry is growing, and everybody thinks that they know everything about music. I don’t think it’s about hit songs,” her manager, Taye Aliyu said in an interview, disagreeing with the obvious calls for improvement. “It’s about making good music, and I think everything else will follow. People think in Nigeria that “Mama Africa” album did not do well. But we know it did exceptionally well, even better than her debut “King of Queens.”#
With that same energy, Yemi Alade is here again. It’s the third album from the diva, and we are being served a 15-track extension of “King of Queens” and “Mama Africa.” Where the other two had something to sell, this one offers nothing powerful as an anchor. ‘Knack am’, its lead single which shows up as a bonus track here, isn’t just weak, it hasn’t even caught on. It stands as a summation of the music on display here.
‘You’, ‘Kpirim’, ‘Yaba left’, ‘Talku Talku’, ‘Bread and Butter’, ‘Skyscraper’ are all picked from the same school; find an African beat, lace it with guitars, and spread lyrics over it. There’s no cohesion here, just the same old story.
To her credits, she attempts to wiggle out of the comfort zone. The Caribbean contributed to this project. The production is great on ‘Bum bum’, and ‘Mon lo’, while ‘Mr Stamina’, gathers strength from South African House. While she attempts to fly, her songwriting wings failed to gather enough wind. She’s stuck in her place, seeking for a second life. ‘Wonder woman’ is a great Trap production, but mixing a chopped TED speech with heavy basslines requires powers that Yemi Alade seldom accesses.
What Yemi Alade needs isn’t this album. In 2017, Nigeria has enjoyed the brilliance of a Simi album. Niniola has also created dance music, which mattered heavily on the continent. Yemi needs to unlearn her basic inclination to record music in the way that she currently does. Songwriters are desperately needed for her, and a rebranding needs to follow too.
Growth can be an uncomfortable process, but inside it, holds the “Black Magic” that Yemi Alade really desires to commandeer our attention with. We have been here before. We have heard this, processed this, and now it has overstayed its welcome. Time to switch it up.