Brymo in global push with 6th studio album, “Yellow” – Toni Kan

 “If Fela and Majek Fashek had a love child, that child would be Brymo.”

I have been fascinated by Brymo for many years now, beginning from his star turn on Ice Prince’s “Oleku”.

The fascination is borne out of his stellar talent, dogged persistence, prodigious output and an uncanny ability to constantly reinvent himself; from an independent R&B artist as evident on Brymstone, to a rising star with his stint at Chocolate City before the dream died and he gave us the brilliant Merchants Dealers & Slaves which featured the amazing ‘Purple Jar”. Then we have had Tabula Rasa, Klitoris and Oso, all of these albums evincing growth and a constant questing for new directions.

For instance, ‘Akara’ on The Son of a Kapenta gives off Techno/House music vibes, ‘Waka- Waka’ off Wakaa The Musical is atmospheric with a big band orchestral feel and compares favourably to Keala Settles “This is me’ from The Greatest Showman Sound Track. “Everybody gets to die” off the MD&S album has a reggae flavour while in Oṣó he experiments fully with apala, fuji and other derivatives of Yoruba music.

Add his gravelly voice to his precocious abilities and you have a master artist in the making, one whom I once described thus, in an old essay – “If Fela and Majek Fashek had a love child, that child would be Brymo.”

Almost 10 years later, those sentiments remain but….Brymo remains a promise in abeyance, a potential awaiting fulfillment. He loves to tweet controversial claims like Donald Trump and Elon Musk, two men who like him are blessed with outsized egos.

Brymo has claimed that no Nigerian artist writes songs like he does. That may well be true if you consider his brilliant compositions like ‘Purple Jar’, ‘Entropy’, ‘Waka-Waka’ and ‘Let’s Make Love” but in doing that you may be doing songwriters like Cobhams a disservice.

He has claimed that he is the only professional artiste in Nigeria without any of his peers raising an eyebrow.

He has also described himself as Nigeria’s greatest artiste ever, making rubbish of Fela, KSA, Ebenezer Obey, Rex Lawson, 2face, etc.

Without a doubt, “Purple Jar”, which I once described as an “amazingly beautiful, well produced and arranged song” is a great song in which Brymo channels regret and pain into something beautiful.

Listen to the opening verse of “Let’s make Love” and you find a lyricist in the mould of Tim Rice. In those nine lines, Brymo displays uncanny brilliance and amazing wordplay, as he uses water imagery in a way that can only be described as sublime as he moves from currents to tides to waves and torrents.

I was born with greed, and evil seed
It’s in my flesh
I trust only me, I’m too blind to see
Pretending to care

It’s the light at the end of the tunnel
It’s the promise of heaven on earth
I am so lost in the current
In the tides and the waves, and the torrents

But there is always a ‘but’ and there-in lies the rub. No artiste can produce supremely sublime work at every iteration. There will be misses and near misses and that is the point Dami Ajayi attempts to make in his essay “Annotations on Brymo’s “Yellow’ – Dami Ajayi where he writes that:

“The first movement holds six songs but I assure you, this is not vintage Brymo…Take the opening song, ‘Esprit 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.”

For Brymo and all who have taken offence at Dr. Ajayi’s observations, I ask you to show me a song on Yellow that comes close to “Purple Jar” or “Let’s Make love” or even “Entropy”? Show me one on the level of word play, double entendres, imagery or sheer vocabulary that comes close.

The Brymo we find on Yellow is a hardworking and intentional Brymo intent on producing an album with something for everyone – The English speaker, the pidgin aficionado and the Yoruba listener – what Dami Ajayi has described as “linguistic shelving”.

The experiment fails and it is easy to see why. You must always play to your strength. Brymo’s songs have always come across as a buffet of influences and heteroglossia segueing from English to Pidgin to Yoruba and street slangs.

Many years ago, Lagbaja called a press conference and at that press conference he told his stunned audience that he would no longer sing in pidgin. That decision marked the beginning of the end for Lagbaja.

With Yellow, Brymo wanted to go global with all English songs that would, I suppose he assumes, appeal to a foreign, nay global audience and so we have CD 1 but the songs do not rise to the occasion.

“Esprit de Corps” despite the banging beat, sounds like a neophyte learning to rap. And the spelling of “Espirit” is wonky, by the way.

But the critical question to ask is “does Brymo need English songs to go global or appeal to a mass audience?” The answer is no and for examples look to Fela Kuti, look to King Sunny Ade, look to Angelique Kidjo, look to Salif Keita, look to Cesaria Evora.

The strategy was, in that sense, off.

Now let us consider the track, ‘Ozymandias’. It is an error. There are very few sonnets in literature that approximate to the power and imagery of PB Shelley’s poem which was written on a dare between him and a friend. Brymo appropriates the title of a politically themed sonnet that riffs on transience and tyranny then turns it into a love song without contextual references.

It is as if Brymo saw the word, Ozymandias, liked it and decided to give the name to a song. What is Ozymandias doing in a song that opens with – “I used to have two vices/Smoking jean and eating coochie.”

Ozymandias was an alternate title for Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II who erected monuments to himself. In Shelley’s poem, a traveler from an ancient kingdom tells him those monuments have become ruins – “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone/Stand in the desert. . .” 

 True there are references to “history” forgetting all and “the people” no longer settling for “mediocre systems” in Brymo’s song but they are inchoate and incoherent. The song’s opening line has denied the song every pretence at gravitas.

But one may well ask whether it matters. Must the lyrics make sense? Must they convey meaning even though the melody and tunes are pleasing? I would be the first to answer that indeed we do not need to understand the words in order to enjoy the song but where a man calls himself Nigeria’s best composer, we must hold him to higher standards.

The jury is still out on what Seal was trying to say when he composed “Kiss from a Rose”, a song he said he was ashamed of but which went on to sell 8 million units after frequent collaborator Trevor Horn worked his magic on them. No one is sure what “Hotel California” by the Eagles was/is about. But we listen to them all the same and enjoy them and infuse them with meanings all our own.

The same argument of a lack of contextual consanguinity can be extended to “Entropy”, a title which doesn’t make sense whether in Physics or English.

Brymo is a raconteur and a bard of the highest rank. He can tell stories that are poignant and heartfelt and evocative not just of mood but of place. Listen to “1 Pound” and you begin to get an idea but with Yellow, it is on “Gambu” and “Rara Rira” that he achieves lift off.

On “Gambu”, the gravelly voice of the griot returns as Brymo appropriates a slang term as he goes on a socially relevant rampage calling out praise singers and turn coats – “person wey befriend dog e go chop shit.”

The beat is an infectious and melodious fusion of sounds with a decidedly middle-eastern inflection. Cue this song as a soundtrack to a thriller movie as the hero corners the villain for the final duel and it’s ghen-ghen.

But it is “Rara Rira” that will endure the longest from this album. A mid-tempo song riding on a sound bite to deliver a melodious feel-good vibe with a carefree swag.

Imagine one of a group of young men sitting around a table weighed down by victuals and asking the bar man to “abeg play us Rara Rira.”

This is a song for the times, one that will complement every moment of celebration.

I have read reviews in which Adedotun is compared to Olanrewaju off Brymo’s last album on account of its sedate folksy pace and I can see the similarity. So, who is Adedotun, another son or is that another name for Olarenwaju? Brymo does not divulge much other than to say that the eponymous character has added – “sweetness to his wealth.”

Let me end with a quick comment on Abu Ya (Her Song), one of the few songs on which Brymo deigns to feature another artist. Lindsey Abudei is the chosen one and she delivers, channeling uber songstress Dora Ifudu on a track that is melodious, haunting and evocative of mood. For those who do not know Dora Ifudu please repair to YouTube.

“It is morning, It is morning

And my children are laughing” she opens in Igbo before ending with:

“Do not forget, do not forget

Take it, Take it, Take it.”

The pedantic reader now hunched-over and peering at his phone will soon remind me in a tweet that out of 15 songs I have mentioned only a handful. Let me provide you with a quick answer: This is a review. It is analysis and opinion. A review must never come across as content summary.

To conclude, Brymo sings on “Purple Jar” that – ‘I like to eat my cake and have it.’ That may be so but on this album, in choosing to present his fans with a 3 in 1 album, he opens himself to interrogation and we are within our rights to do that because Ozymandias who once boasted – ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ – lived long enough to see it all turn to dust.

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