A Third Party’s Post-Script: Reactions to Dami Ajayi’s, “Annotations on Brymo’s Yellow” – ‘Joba Ojelabi (Unedited)
A few days ago, poet and popular music critic, Dami Ajayi, put out his ‘annotations’ on Brymo’s most recent body of work, “Yellow.” Unsurprisingly, the diligent critic did not spare the artist at all.
As a per-time poet, Dami certainly was not short of words in writing the review; he found just the words to give his thoughts just about enough lucidity. Where a twist, however, comes to play is in the reactions that trailed the review. Whereas some appreciated Dami’s seeming candour on the highs and lows of the album, some others (Brymo inclusive) did not appreciate the review.
If there is any lesson to learn from the new media and its devices, it is that controversy sells! And the controversy that accompanied Dami’s review, ignited by Brymo’s ‘Brymosqueness,’ has now evolved into a full-blown conversation on social media. Following the trend of events, it becomes necessary to grace Dami’s review with a response, one that at least tries to match the effort the poet put into expressing his thoughts on the album (although, I strongly doubt the possibility of this).
What makes Dami’s review a beautiful read, apart from the beautiful writing of course, is the apparent attempt of the critic to attain some balance. Through the course of the review, he tries to appraise every element that is involved in the creation of the album, starting with the evolution of the artist himself. And it is all rosy until the artist gets to the tracklisting.
In trying to make a review myself, I am forced to agree with some of the thoughts of Dami on Brymo’s album. Our differences mostly being when the word ‘incohesion’ comes to play. From the review, it seems that the critic’s biggest weakness of the album is its songwriting. Although, I am of the opinion that Brymo’s pronunciation of some words and sentences in some of these songs might just be a bigger bane.
The album opens with ‘Espirit de corps,‘ and Dami is right about one thing, there are a lot of “itch-es” on that track. Dami simply remarks the songwriting on the track as Brymo’s poorest with the only hope for redemption being the track’s chorus. While Brymo’s vulgarity on this story of a ‘Snitch,’ a ‘Bitch’ and their escapades together might be intentional and pardonable, Dami’s criticism makes the track sound like arrant nonsense which it definitely is not.
In his words, ‘It is not clear whether umbrage should be taken with his enunciations or the lyrical word salad comprising of the suffix, -itch.
One can conclude that the song grates on the ear, causing an itch.
There could be redemption in the chorus but the verses are so drawn apart, shorn of beauty and grace.’
While the track is definitely not Brymo’s best, I do not agree with Dami on ranking this track as the worst.
The critic’s error on Ozymandias seems greater; exploring the song at the superficial. He compares Ozymandias with Purple Jar, and while both songs have a main ‘selfish lover’ character, Ozymandias finds backing in Percy Shelley’s 1977 poem with the same title and the long list of work that trails it. The original Ozymandias tries to reinforce the superiority of time on man. A concept that Brymo uses as a basis for his selfishness for indeed, “history forgets all and hubris destroys us.”
However, the good Dr Ajayi acknowledges the Kapenta’s son’s style of speaking in parables but goes on to posit that the artist might have taken it too far on the Yellow album. This then begs the question; who sets the limits on transparency of thought when it comes to art? If a painter can hide his emotions in the most unusual colours and a poet can hide his thoughts in the opaquest expressions, why can’t a musician hide behind his lyrics? Or better still, when does it become excessive?
Commenting on ‘Heartbreak Songs Are Better in English,’ Dami writes, “Take the near gem, ‘Heartbreak songs are better in English.’ This is such a beautiful title but Brymo hardly shows his workings…”. It’s understandable that the scientist in Dami wants more, but I’m not exactly sure we have had any mathematical workings in the industry since Sound Sultan, yet there has been a lot of amazing music. However, I think what Dami wanted Brymo to do a song, he did in the four opening lines of the song. Expressing my thoughts on the song, I wrote; “Heartbreak Songs Are Better in English” comes as quite the stunner as the title of the song itself ignites many thoughts, but all the artist offers as rationale are the first four lines of the song;
“I would love to write in plain words/ But where I’m from the man is boss/ Take it in, don’t say a word/ Tuck your heart inside a wall”
Yes! A constricting culture! But just before giving a chance to process this, Brymo goes on to sing his heartbreak song… in English.”
Dami once again plays down Brymo’s songwriting in Stripper+White lines. Limiting the symbolism to mental slavery. But this is quite unfair to the artist considering that he tries to bare himself (or a character) on that song. While Brymo does reference mental slavery, a huge chunk of the song interrogates the artist’s (character’s) persona. The first verse of the song opens with the lines, ‘All over the world I’m known/But I’m still that kid from the ghetto…”, reinforcing any existing hypothesis on possible impressionable events from the character’s time in the ‘ghetto.’
In the second verse, Brymo sings, “Being alone was all I’d always known/ from the pain was where my passions flow/ And I borrowed when I didn’t have my own/ from the poverty, folks who love to moan/ Win upon win and I still can’t sleep/ Life always brings suffering you see/ These dreams of mine they come alive into nothingness it all falls down.”. So yes Dr Ajayi, there certainly is more to that song.
And while it is true that ‘banana’ has been an interesting metaphor since its use by the revered King Sunny Ade, Brymo’s use of the word does not sound ‘glib’ for the mere concept of ‘literary context.’ The interesting part of the use of the ‘banana’ metaphor by Brymo is that it does not in any way interfere with the King of Juju’s use. As a matter of fact, combining both metaphorical meanings gives it even more colour (at least to housewives).
On the second side of the album, ‘Woman’ comes on, and the critic’s curiosity is quite well placed. Also, Dami catches the slippery version of Brymo who tries very hard to directly evade the question of feminism. Although, if you listened to “Do you know me?“, you might find a clue on where he stands.
“‘Gambu’ gambles with a proverbial saying, spins in a love story and succeeds. The triumph should be credited to the playful guitar riffs and thumping percussion.” While the good Doctor might not be totally incorrect with this appraisal, once again, he ignores one of Brymo’s greatest strengths, which also makes the song stand out; his storytelling ability.
Dami’s criticism seems kinder to the third side of the album, although this is not totally surprising, considering it might just be the best part of the album.
In all, the balance the review tries so hard to achieve is eventually skewed for the mere reason that there seems to be a barrier between the artist and critic. A layer of protection placed by the artist in songwriting and unremoved by the critic in interrogation.
However, if there’s anything to agree with from Dami Ajayi’s review, it is the reality that only time can tell what Yellow is to Brymo’s discography, although chances are that it’s not its peak.