Soundbender is the apt title for Beautiful Nubia and his 14-man Root Renaissance Band’s eleventh studio album. Mastery comes through rigorous repetition and genius is just one rank away. What Beautiful Nubia achieves in Soundbender is akin to what a professor strives for with an inaugural lecture, where to a general public, an idea is broken to its composite rudiments for the main purpose of not just adding to the body of knowledge but for the public to come away armed with some basic information, however useless it may be.
Fortunately, Beautiful Nubia and his steadfast band are not providing anything useless: they are making not just music, but excellent music filed under that interesting genre, Roots and Folk music. Beautiful Nubia is no newcomer into the music scene. In understanding the many parts of this wonderful creature, the bothersome question is which of his laurels came first? Was he first a veterinary doctor before he became a musician or was he first a poet or last a writer? Segun Akinlolu is truly a man of many parts and beyond dabbling into different creative ventures; he strives for mastery and touches stone with prolificacy often.
To lay claim to sound-bending is a miraculous thing and perhaps BN knows this, but he offers an alternative explanation at the very beginning of his latest oeuvre: ‘Ara’, at the introit of this experience, talks about the various receptions listeners give to music by way of bending their bodies to confirm with their dance. ‘Ara’ is the Yoruba word for Wonder and the term leads to another song by Fela Anikulapo Kuti, ‘Just Like That’, where the late maestro characterizes a phenomenon he called Wonderfulment. Whilst Fela’s wonderfulment and Nubia’s Ara are worlds and decade apart, they invest their description in swathes of beautiful music.
Beautiful Nubia, beyond being a competent poet, is an extraordinary writer; in every song on this album there is a brilliant flash of moving couplets, triplets and quartets that sometimes deal with philosophy, with Yoruba idioms and tenets amongst other things. Lyrical content apart, his code-switching is seamless so that a song that begins in English changes mid-way into Yoruba. And the Yoruba lyrics in question is marinated in authentic sayings whilst the root music he melds with cannot be more cosmopolitan.
‘Akawogbekun’, the third song, roughly translates to the one who rests his hand on his belly. This song describes the Yoruba version of the thinking man with Segun Akinduro’s accompanying violin; at the rate of being hyperbolic, this song is thoroughly bliss. Segun Akinlolu’s music beyond interfacing between mastery and genius ferries a message with it. His message, without being boggy on the product, is a simple one: be at peace with self, with friends, with society, with nature.
Sometimes the message moves into the realm of hope, like in ‘Ireti-Ogo’, where he admonishes that tomorrow will be bring better tidings, or delves into Yoruba folklore in ‘Abukeoshin’, where the snail is personified as a flawed character, or ‘Yo’wo’ where he rebukes evil-doing. The message truly is a simple one without being simplistic but the sterling music that carries it is multi-layered.
Sometimes the lyrical statement is downright absurd, like in ‘One Good Soul’, where he addresses our society’s fate and says, “As life currently goes, one-night stands might end in marriage”. But whilst all the travails he describes are not cautionary, they are all reflective. ‘Lights of Spain’ is a reggae-tinge somber song that describes migration by land. ‘Leke-Leke’ is a personal favourite: incantatory, poetic and fast-paced, it is a masterpiece prototype of soundbending and perhaps the song Nubia himself responds to on the pictures that grace the cover of the album.
When this album bends towards its imminent ending at ‘Akojade’, a song that talks at the same time about retribution and the parable of the sower, the earnest listener is convinced that this is will be his first amongst many more listens.
Quote me: the problem with Beautiful Nubia’s Soundbender album is that there is no problem at all.