In Afrosoul, WurlD’s vocals elevate him above the ordinary – Carl Terver

WurlD can be considered a late bloomer on Nigeria’s music scene, but his recognition has been growing.

It is easy to understand WurlD’s late entry, because when he featured on Davido’s ‘Sweet In The Middle’, his performance was without compromise to his signature style, which is quite removed from core Nigerian mainstream gbedu. But luckily he had already pulled a stunt in toying with afrobeats and naija dancehall on such tracks as ‘Show You Off’ and “Mad’, jettisoning his usual Electro-fusion genre, in his collab EP ILGWT (I Love Girls With Trobul) with Sarz last year.

But because of his unfamiliar style, only the song ‘Mad’ with a fast-paced Afro-House beat, and a touch of evasive afrobeats percussion, became the stinger to his name, leaving out other good songs — ‘Trobul’,  ‘Ego’ and ‘Sweat’ — from that EP. Nevertheless, his music has now found a niche demography. As his success last year showed, WurlD’s listeners are the urbanites who can’t always deal with the usual zanku and afro-pop we’re overwhelmed with.

In the build up to the release of his EP, Afrosoul, now out, his fans’ hunger or a certain capitalist impatience saw the release of three songs — ‘Ghost Town’, ‘Love Nobody’ and ‘Wayo’ — off the 7-track offering. Or he merely followed the pattern set by other Nigerian singers – singles first, the rest later.

The EP dropped on Friday May 15.What are the highlights? Or, rather, what is Afrosoul that WurlD is propounding? A new genre? Well, let us journey through the EP.

‘National Anthem’, subtitled Growing Wings, the first track, opens like the usual Afrobeats song with a sax rhythm intro. He sings ‘Dem pray mek I fail’ then promises his girl that he won’t. Why it is a national anthem is the question. But it broods with a spirit of rebellion in its rendition. Somewhere in the singing are jungle chants, a sax interlude comes after the second verse and blends into an electric soul into a confused autotone outro. On this, WurlD stoops to average Nigerian songwriting — ‘I go dey for you / De way you go dey for me, Baby o.’

But he redeems himself in ‘Ghost Town’, the following song, part of the pre-released singles. It raises anxieties about going unnoticed or becoming unsuccessful, a seeming allusion to WurlD’s music career. So he had ‘better hit the bullseye’ he sings, or end up in a ghost town. B-plus songwriting, the track is innovative in its sound, a fusion of laid-back reggae and afro R&B.

‘Love Nobody’ has beats reminiscent of ‘Mad’, a fast-paced Afro-House percussion, tinkered a little. In it two jealous lovers bicker.

‘Story’ is a dance song and situates WurlD in his natural elements. The songwriting carries the spirit of Nigerian teenage love: ‘When you no dey call me, I get lonely’. The singer coos as he promises to die for his girl.

‘Wayo’, the best song off the album, featuring a mild Afrobeats percussion, tickles the ear and provides motivation for lovers to dance. It is quite an inspiration for a sensual mood. Your ears might deceive you that is sounds like another popular Nigerian song from last year, but try not to make the connection. A potential yuletide hit, WurlD might have wasted this one by releasing it now.

‘Can’t Come Outside’ is still on gyration, normal Afro-pop. Lovers’ trouble again. We now know why WurlD loves girls with trouble. What else can be an inexhaustible songwriting inspiration? We know guilty poets. ‘Baby, you gimme one level’, he sings on it. If he’s not there, someone will love her; if she’s not here, someone will love him. But the lovers are in a stalemate, so in the hook we hear, an allusion to the pandemic:

Now that we both lock down

I’m getting so messed up

Can’t go outside, no, no

Can’t come outside, no, no

Listening to this song before the last on the project, Afrosoul — the genre — foreshadowed in the project title hasn’t made its mark yet. Or maybe we must mine it in WurlD’s vocals.

The last song ‘Birthday Song and Palmwine Riddim’ springs no surprises; it is trite Afrobeats, once more, with an additional sigh induced by the clichéd lines from featured artist, Zeal Vvip.

It appears Nigerian music’s renaissance has hit a hard ceiling, perhaps not, as the year may still unearth talents. But the curve is at a linear trajectory or it’s finding a plunging point. Afrobeats is over-mined. Burna Boy hijacked it. Now WurlD wants to continue his career with it. He might need to hold on to his Electro-fusion firmly too, or risk, very soon, joining the singsong.

But for now he has his vocals, his innovativeness and his songwriting to elevate him above the ordinary.

Carl Terver, an editor at Praxis magazine,  writes from Makurdi.

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