Annotations on Brymo’s “Yellow’ – Dami Ajayi

i.

Brymo is in a class of his own.

Popular since he lent his voice to Ice Prince’s biggest song, Oleku, ten years on Brymo is still brimming with songs while Ice Prince has waned into a mere citizen.

This speaks to longevity, obduracy, and a constant need to revisit self, to clarify, to audit, to progress.

Those opportune to listen to Brymstone, Brymo’s first release, circa 2007, will note an R & B/R.Kelly-sque sound of promise. This predated Ice Prince and Chocolate City – that flash of bright light in Brymo’s career that was dimmed by a court case and almost ended in a career crucifixion.

But the phoenix that rose from his excessive sophomore effort, Son of a Kapenta was Merchant, Dealers and Slaves.  And what followed has been touted by many pundits to be Brymo’s magnum opus, Tabula Rasa. Klitoris, his fifth album is often dismissed as too rascally—but what Brymo has done is to redefine his first two false starts. His current trajectory began with Merchants, shot up an incline with Tabula Rasa, and then plateaued with Oṣó.  His collaborative album, A.A.A or Attack and Arrange, with Skata Vibration, is another kettle of fish.

Give or take, Brymo has built the class of Brymo from scratch, three times in all of six years.

ii.

To think about Brymo’s style is to consider a surfeit of influences because what he lends his gravelly tenor to is a range of discourses.

Brymo is at heart a griot, one who is enamoured of storytelling. And he fancies Lagos. His muse is that Lagos everyman. The downtrodden. A man with needs but precariously short on means. And perhaps this is where he derives his Fela affectation. Remember ‘O.D.O.O’? That moving tale about the man whose utopia would have been to own a fan he never could afford because inflation kept moving the goalpost. It is within this kind of quiet and systemic anarchy that Brymo relocates his characters. It is the edgy reality that keeps his songs compelling.

It is probably best to call Brymo’s style of music Afro-Soul. With influences mainly from Fuji, Afrobeat, R & B and a chameleonic pop sound, it is worthy of note that Brymo’s sound has not been static.

In recent albums, he has experimented with rock and psychedelia, which further complicates the quandary of taxonomy. It is not quite Afro-Soul anymore but a maverick kind of Afro-fusion, a smorgasbord of every sound that tickle his fancy pulling him farther away from mainstream pop to the fringes of the Alternative where deigns to call himself king, especially on Twitter.

Yellow .

Not since Son of a Kapenta has Brymo had so many songs on an album.

Yellow has fifteen whooping songs, lasting thirteen minutes short of one hour and divided into three movements.

CD 1.

The first movement holds six songs but I assure you, this is not vintage Brymo.

Of course, the Brymo sound is unmistakable, however he sounds stuck in the interstices of rock and electronic music.

Perhaps not quite purged of the A.A.A album, these tracks may be regarded as side-effects.

Take the opening song, ‘Espirit de Corps’. It is simply Brymo’s poorest song writing.

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.

‘Ozymandias’ describes a selfish lover but hardly with the impact of the similar persona on ‘Purple Jar’. It may be early to conclude that Brymo is resplendent in pidgin and Yoruba and bleh when he fronts songs in English but on Yellow, the songs written in English constitute, permit the cliché, the weakest link.

Cohesion seems to be an obvious concern. Standalone verses wedded to ear-candy hooks have become a Brymo shtick.

Of course, there is beauty in disruption; elegance in what a singer leaves to the imagination but that predilection for yoking discordant verses and mellifluous hooks seems to be a method Brymo takes too far on this album.

Take the near gem, ‘Heartbreak songs are better in English’. This is such a beautiful title but Brymo hardly shows his workings. He inadvertently returns to that poetic conclusion, pumped on an airy beat, and he almost gets away with it.

The hook of ‘Strippers + White lines’ goes thus, Oh What a Night/Strippers and White lines/And a fighter jet that wont fly.

You will need a visit to Wikipedia to get your head out of strip clubs and nocturnal fireflies. The symbolism here, apparently is that of mental slavery, which, is bogus. We can’t sing about mental slavery like ‘Redemption Song’ did not happen. ‘Smart Monkey’ is glib and resonant but banana has been ruined as a serious metaphor since King Sunny Ade’s Sweet Banana. To relocate it within the purview of politics will be to consult Fela’s Monkey Banana—but it is incumbent on Brymo on Yellow to try out newer ineffectual impressions.

CD 2.

From the first song in the second movement, ‘Woman’, Brymo steps into familiar territory singing in Pidgin about women, or a woman in particular. Wikipedia claims that it is an ode to his unnamed partner but those who remember ‘Naked’ from Klitoris remember she was featured and credited as Esse Kakada, why anonymise two albums down the line?

‘Black Man, Black Woman’ is a sketch about gender roles but it seems misguided in imagining that women make the rules. In Brymo’s reckoning, society enforces rules, women dictate rules, and men break them. Brymo eludes, slippery as ever, not quite speaking to the grain of gender roles or the bane of feminism: patriarchy.

‘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.

‘Rara Rira’ could have been fashioned out of a Fela chant, coasting on an insouciant atmosphere reminiscent of flotsams living out their lives on the edge.

Then he proposes ‘Brain Gain’ as the pragmatic alternative to the brain drain. The message is a pithy one, jolting on a quick pace beat and hoisted by brass solos. This, of course, is one of the lucid moments of the album, even if Brymo’s proffered solution is simply rhetorical, it is well behaved unlike his outrageous tweet about dual citizenship.

iii.

Best to leave the best for the last—and this is the nature of the brief sweetness of the third movement of Brymo’s Yellow. Sung mostly in Yoruba save for the Lindsey Abudei’s ‘Abu Iya’, done in Igbo, the idea behind movements appears to be more of a linguistic shelving than a thematic clustering.

‘Adédọ̀tun’ is reminiscent of Oso’s ‘Ọlánrewájú’: folksy and fond of the subject, one wonders who ‘Adédọ̀tun’ is and if it is same person as Oyindamola, but hardly enough time passes before Brymo asks the crowd to take over the song. It may have worked magic in theatre where context is visual or with a music video, what Brymo left unsaid is buried in intonations a listener cannot excavate.

‘Ọ̀run n Móoru’ is a Yoruba parable about kings, traitors and the humidity of the heavens. As usual, it is all snapshots, yet it is poignant. There lies the gift of Brymo’s song writing; in Yoruba and Pidgin  he is able to create mood, but in English, lucidity and coherence often eludes him—leaving him to rely heavily on Mikky Me who is oftentimes faultless as he comes to his aid with remarkable guitar riffs and patchwork of vibrant percussion.

‘A F’èédú Fan’ná’ simply means the one who feeds charcoal to the fire and this is Brymo’s praise of himself. The man is quite an instigator, a stoker of fire, an iconoclast and by leaps and bounds, his own verified praise-singer on Twitter.

The debate about where Yellow fits in ranking on Brymo’s discography is more complicated than it seems. Yellow is Brymo pushing his craft in new directions, doing songs entirely in English, attempting to court Rock, Electronic music and a hint of airy Easy Listening but his lyrics sell him  short.

When he returns to secure base, we are reminded of his strengths: his handling of intrigue in telling stories of hapless and broken characters who subsist in lawless universe. Yet, they fall in and out of love, and try to find meaning.

This tendency began with Merchant, Dealers and Slaves and has stretched across his albums till Oṣó. Yellow is a shift from that approach. Perhaps a tighter A & R would have curated a more dense body of work, with weaker English movement reduced to two songs and one interlude. At the moment, Yellow pales behind his last three albums, and to project that it may be the scratch of Brymo’s decline is a hypothesis best left for time to test.

Erratum: The lyrics to Strippers + White Lines were corrected kindly by Lanre Lawal of The Bail Music Company

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