Happiness Has Come to Town: Is Brymo’s Yellow a Promise Fulfilled? – Joy Mamudu (Unedited)
The much advertised seventh album of Olawale Brymo on April Fool’s Day turned out to not be a prank, after all. The album dropped in the early hours and became the topic of twitter conversation for loyal fans who had been counting down to the release and brutal critics who insisted that the album was not all that. Un/fortunately, I am a staunch fan who is close enough to truly enjoy his music, yet far enough away to judge it with the tiniest grain of objectivity.
When I listened to Yellow for the first time, I jumped out of bed – one is always in bed during quarantime, isn’t one? – carried my ageing laptop over to my home workstation (a napkin folded over the stove rail) and began writing my initial thoughts on each song.
The album is divided into Sides A in English, B in pidgin and C in Yoruba and Igbo. It opens with Esprit de Corps, forcing a rhyme about snitches and blackmail to an upbeat tempo. The song later assures us that there is no real difference between the lead character and his rivals: they are all the same, forever entwined in a beautiful dance of strife, revenge, victory and loss.
In Blackmail, the curtain separating the artist’s public and private personas flutters open and I get the idea that this song just might be deeply personal. There is a frustration that love is such an unchanging, tiring cycle of give and take but also acknowledges his helplessness at being able to free himself:
“Love is the captivity that the lovers chose;
Seeing how you still love this fool like you do.”
Ozymandias begins with a rather cheeky line: “I used to have two vices; smoking Jane and eating coochie” which trick us into thinking that perhaps this will be a flighty, hedonistic song. However, Brymo soon reminds us that like Fela and Burna Boy, he possesses an exquisite skill of blending mundane, sexual, or socially conscious lyrics smoothly – matched only by Wizkid singing “Fasola ele ni” immediately after asking for a woman’s body in his bed.
And the people shall no longer settle
For mediocre systems…
It’s time for the new, the old rule must go”
Like the classic poems after which it is named, this track croons philosophy as it warns about the inevitable folly of hypocrisy and self-aggrandizement of leaders.
“History forgets all, Ozymandias
Hubris destroys us, Ozymandias”
Heartbreak Songs Are better in English ironically paints love in a romantic, attractive light:
“You and me, two peas in a pod
Love is courageous,
Pain is contagious,
Hope is courageous,
And fear is contagious.”
In Strippers + White Lines/Smart Monkey Brymo croons in his velvety voice thick with emotion. Towards the end, when the beats goes off, he says
“A smart monkey
Don’t monkey around with another monkey’s banana.”
One briefly wonders the possible implications of “cheating for balance” as Without You says. It has a warm, 90s hiphop & R&B rhythm and before you know, you may catch yourself swaying and bobbing your head to the beat. As usual, his lyrics are poetic and paradoxical:
“My love is a grave I put this in,
Ages like fine wine, but of little use in the moment.”
I agree with Dami Ajayi that the songs on Side A seem to be “side-effects” of Brymo’s album A.A.A. made in collaboration with the group Skata Vibration.
In a way that only Nigerians can truly understand, the lyrics profess the deepest sort of love:
“E get dis woman
I carry her mata for my head.”
The entire song is laid on beats that are very grown up, yet maintaining a fun side that calls you to immerse yourself in it and participate.
Gambu, one of my favourites, has a bright, singalong vibe as it pledges loyalty to another, despite their bad reputation. This song is even more interesting because it is based on the true life activities of a musician who sang praise songs for thieves.
Not for the first time, Brymo asks the society to find and take active part in solutions to everyday problems, instead of waiting for God to come. Just like on his 2018 song God is in Your Mind, this song is urging us to take active responsibility for our own destinies.
Brain Gain preaches against absolute belief in the grass being greener elsewhere, and gently suggests self-love instead, to promote the betterment of one’s current location.
Even though I do not understand Yoruba – the language of Side C of the album – I don’t enjoy this segment any less. Small matter of language barrier aside, the minute my ears pick up the opening violins on Orun n Mooru, I feel a tiny burst of epiphany in my chest. That thing I’ve been feeling for the last two weeks is my protest that my lover has not been very vulnerable with me for a while now and I miss it, because vulnerability is the SI unit of care, and connection.
I had not been able to name what I’d been feeling, but there it was. A Feedu Fan’na has me swaying with its pure traditional vibe, fusing traditional and modern beats seamlessly, Brymo’s voice taking us on a journey of poignant emotion.
The album lands this musical flight smoothly on the last song, the only one done in Igbo. Lindsey Abudei takes us on a soulful ride with her unique style that vacillates between soft and throaty to deeper and more powerful. I am un/fortunately already a Lindsey fan, so the beauty of the music does not surprise me. I am only unsatisfied because I would have loved to hear her and Brymo on a song and this is a missed opportunity.
Although Brymo refers to this work as a hedonist album, it is not nearly as raunchy as previously released tracks, like the infamous Prick No Get Shoulder of 2014. However, the body of work is self-sufficient and blends different genres of sound masterfully and confidently. It is a testament to the consistent quality and output that Brymo has become loved for over the years. Overall, Yellow counts as an immense success, in my book.