Rocking On With Edaoto – Dami Ajayi

Review of his Sophomore Album, Rock On

I once introduced a friend to a genial fellow at Freedom Park.

We were at the food court where an animated conversation ensued about everything that has bedevilled the black race from the Middle Passage to the brazen kleptocracy of GEJ’s presidency.

When the man left, this friend asked, who is that guy?

I said that is Edaoto, his mic control is the best in Lagos.

My friend would return after she listened to Edaoto’s first album, CriticalspeaKing, to say she kinda liked his vibe. He is somewhere between Fela and Beautiful Nubia, she said.

I kind of agree with that surface-level characterisation.

After all, Edaoto sees Fela, the musical genius, as his messiah. A Pan-Africanist, he campaigns for human rights and a revolution. He is also an ardent follower of Yoruba spirituality. Some say he is an Ifa priest. I don’t doubt them.

He was once with Beautiful Nubia’s Roots Renaissance band. The first time I met Edaoto was at the annual Ilesa Poetry Festival, that poetry vigil cum party usually hosted by thespian Ropo Ewenla in the premises of Prof. Bayo Lamikanra’s Imoo-Ilesa residence.

It must have been 2013. Edaoto was genial and warm, not just cordial—he approaches you  like you were friends in a previous life. When I relocated to Lagos, Edaoto was a regular fixture in the cultural space. Every evening, he sauntered into Freedom Park, always in search of a fag. Edaoto lives in Iwaya, a marshy Lagos mainland suburb overlooking the Lagos Lagoon.

In 2017, Anthony Boudain’s Parts Unknown featured Edaoto. Edaoto made that documentary about Lagos memorable. He is not a yes-man who would hug the lime-light for self-aggrandisement; he is clear about his politics and won’t shy away from any opportunity to speak his mind. I suppose this is why he called his first album, CriticallyspeaKing.

Lekan Babalola in an enthusiastic review of Edaoto’s debut album said, “…he transforms wearing the toga of the traditional griot, the travelling minstrel who embodies the vitality of the oral art form, and at the same time, the garb of the intellectual in whose hands music becomes the ideal veritable tool to engage in a soul-searching, a quest for the collective to embrace the necessity and the naturalness of the Black humanity, whose true essence has remained intact, untainted, in spite of many years of abuse, denigration and, in some cases, self-delusion.”

It has taken years to release his elusive sophomore. Back in the day, I would tease him about the second album and he would smile. Soon come, he would say. I was pleasantly shocked that this album, Rock On, was released with zero fanfare!

Then again, I should not be surprised. It is Edaoto. He is content to put out good music, period. Rock On feels like a live album. It transports me back to a night in Lagos. I am back again at the Freedom Park food court, sitting at one of those back tables, nostrils stinging from clashing aroma of Chinese cuisine, Yoruba dishes and fries.

The album starts with his Afrogenius band doing an urgent jam session which ends with that customary chime—and Edaoto says, my name is Edaoto.

Baba, we already know, I would say  to him in jest and we once had a long chat about why this was part of his act.

I may know Edaoto but he remains Iwaya’s best kept secret. Don’t get me wrong; Edaoto is well travelled and has toured in Belgium, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. But his brand of afrobeat music is invested in ideology—and ideologies are hardly mainstream grenades.

‘Kajowapo’ the standout song on his debut is listed on this album. Perhaps his signature sound, it is a tender song about love, morning dew, and perhaps, marriage. With insistent rhythms, it is repetitive and hypnotic and jarring at the same time. He updates this version with calypso-y guitar riffs.

Edaoto has gifted us with another love song. ‘Ololufe’ tracks a slow tempo, spare instrumentation, with Edaoto’s sonorous singing—and if you have seen Edaoto in performance, the music and his lyrics achieve a kind of unison that moves. He sings with such passion, you could call it desperation. So this simple repetitive song, quite reminiscent of Fela’s Lover from his  LA 69 Sessions, unspools to the listener who brings  both memories and longing to the listening experience.

‘Rock on’ is anchored by the triad themes of love, activism and Yoruba spirituality. The concern has always been about balance. If his debut album is skewed towards activism, this album fronts Yoruba spirituality. Not in doubt is the clamouring for revolution, the lampooning of  eggheads of the polity, the plea to living right within the dictates of Yoruba religion. Chants, proverbs and prayers hoisted mostly by afrobeat rhythms remain the staple of his style. But every so often, he strays into reggae rhythms like on the eponymous ‘Rock On’ .

This album immortalises those nights Edaoto played a monthly gig at Freedom Park.

For those who witnessed it, this powers memory and for those new to his sound, this is a good place to start.

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