Chike’s “Boo of the Booless” is a landmark achievement, forgive its crass title.” – Dami Ajayi

Chike took a long winding road to making an album and on February 14, 2020, he dropped his debut album, a Valentine’s day gift to a teeming horde of expectant if not exasperated fans.

Chike did exactly what vocal powerhouse Waje should have done with her Red Velvet album in 2018; he released his album at a critical period when pop charts are saturated with a glut of last quarter releases, when performing artistes are yet to recover from the marathon December Eko Hotel concerts. Yet, Chike still managed to drop the album on its head.

The album titled Boo of the Booless sounds crass, like a failed advertorial phrase or worse a cheap Nollywood flick. Isn’t boo a modern malapropism of that elegant French word, beau? And ‘booless’ only carts off this unfortunate noun into other parts of speech.

Regardless, Chike appears on the album cover in a portrait portraying royalty, he even dons a crown to match his embroidered velvet. This hints at the cover art for Olamide’s Baddest Guy Ever Liveth , but more robustly, Adekunle Gold’s Gold.

The 14 songs on the album align with the date February 14 and the numerical coincidence may have been even more delightful, if it had not been a leap year. Our belief in superstition is being tested while Coronavirus and COVID-19 ravages the world, perhaps Chike should have called his album, Love in the time of Coronavirus, if he was prescient. But what he lacks in soothsaying, he makes up for with his soothing vocals.

The album arrests from its beginning. ‘Beautiful People’ hums into the room, accompanied by delightful guitar riffs, and Chike sings about the beauty of his boo which is a corollary to the beauty of humanity as whole. What mythmaking you may think, but in his generalisation, he makes place for fickleness and duplicitousness.

He borrows that Swahili word, ‘Nakupenda’ and Ric Hassani, to do a modern ode to love at first sight. How do you invoke East Africa in modern times without going the way of Lion King? Chike hits that African howl from the word hello, that gambit coming after sustained non-verbal cues.

The next song, ‘If I No Love’, foreshadows what is coming  but vibrantly issues a warning between lovers, that cheeky thing said with a weight of steel. Chike sings in pidgin English for candour, asking if this affection will abide.

And once the affection is assured, he brings in MI Abaga for a bleh rap verse (pales bar to bar beside his best love song, ‘One Naira’) and takes that mawkish recipe from Joe Thomas’s ‘ I Wanna Know ” to deliver ‘Forever’, decreeing the shelf-life of this love rather unconvincingly.

Still in the attitude of love, we head to church with Chike to say ‘Amen’. Of course, the clarity and cadence of Chike’s songs reflects a gospel roots but with Amen, he turns a love song to a prayer and fashions out a cantata for Nigerian nuptials.

If ‘Amen’ is for Saturday church weddings, ‘Roju’ is the hashtag of that traditional Igbo wedding and wedding promenade. Chike’s register for love strays even in the direction of Shakespeare and the lover turned griot, unwittingly, seals the fate of this love by choosing to be Romeo while his resplendent palmwine bearing bride is Uju or Julie.

‘Finders Keepers’ throws the bouquet in the way of others. One would have wished that electric guitar in the spine of the rhythm bassline was more insouciant but Chike’s layering of his vocals deepens the song.

The second half of the 46 minute ride is a different kettle of fish from the first half. Optimism and love is replaced by turnoffs, anguish and insecurity. If ‘Insecure’ brings to bear the domesticity of these larger than life lovers and their wheals from previous affairs, ‘Out of Love’ delivers the forceful divorce. ‘Out of love’ is a conversation between two lovers relayed by the scorned lover, the persona played by Chike.

Forgiveness is sought  in ‘Forgive’ but it takes more than piano riffs to heal. ‘Faithful’ lingers over this forlorn affection but reformed lovers will not be tested by the exact test they failed. ‘Running’ pulls the curtain on the thwarted love with the imagery of the scorned lover who will always keep running back to his former affection with regrets and longing.

Boo of the Booless does not stop there. There is the song, ‘Soldier’ that implores soldiers to think about their mothers before expending themselves as martyrs. And then there is the Zoro-assisted ‘Watching over me’ a thanksgiving song to God which is the final run on the album.

Chike comes from a tradition of auditions and talent hunts that have delivered the likes of Timi Dakolo, Omawumi, and Iyanya to the Nigeria audience and the world. He has neither sold out on his dreams nor explored the detour towards popular success.

With Boo of the Booless, he joins the canon of our singers and I daresay complicates how we rate them henceforth. Dare Art Alade had been the de facto crooner of affection within our zeitgeist before Adekunle Gold brought in that Nollywood soundtrack feel via the crème of the alternative before hitting mainstream. Now Chike has brought in his own way of seeing and singing to our full view.

Boo of the Booless is a product of love songs dipped in palm oil and honey, local metaphors and international registers blend seamlessly with beautiful singing, melodies and harmonies.

Of course, the album title is a let-down but it is not past forgiveness, unlike the fictive relationship between the two lovers it is based upon.

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