Teni’s “Billionaire” is a staggering accomplishment – Dami Ajayi

Freshly coronated at the struggling Headies, Teni is, without a doubt, the biggest discovery of contemporary Nigerian music in the past one year. Hence, her first EP was highly anticipated. Ambitiously called Billionaire and comprised of 6 tracks lasting 19 minutes, the album darts in and out and requires incessant replay—but a bit of context.

Teni The Entertainer, younger of the Apata Sisters, has been on a steady incline since she leapt off the Social Media soundboard to begin her griot career. Popular for her soulful singing as much as for her comical impressions especially on Instagram, by the time she began to belt out singles, the whole world was mesmerised by her talent. She has slowly racheted up to the heights of her powers.

About one and half years ago, I wrote profiles of Teni The Entertainer and Victor AD, highlighting them as the new voices of Nigerian music and in such a short span, a slew of names—T-Classic, Crayon, Joe Boy, Fireboy DML—have crept in on us, underscoring the fact that it is a male-dominated industry where the sound of a woman’s voice should always be regarded more as success than as a battlecry. Sadly Victor AD, who was more earnest in putting out his EP first, was the best loser at the Headies, where he was remarkably snubbed.

But music, like all creative arts, defies permutation.

Teni has been put down by industry heads from snide remarks about her weight to her tomboyish appearance but she is totally unputdownable. A love child, clearly confident about her place in the booth, sure of her voice and her story, she has continued to match hit with hit, modernising old melodies in inventive ways that bring the elderly and young to the same sound bar, invigorated.

And you can’t put the risqué past the Apata sisters. Always tethering on the cusp of political correctness and delicately codified sexual metaphors, their use of Yoruba is worthy of academic note. The first word on ‘Nowo’ is ‘O na wo ya, O na wo de’ which invariably means either beating leather or pummelling  the mon pubis. Regardless, the song updates the angsty rhetoric of King Sunny Ade’s Mi O Mo from at least 40 years ago with the responses of the lady of Askamaya whose upward climb has taken her past at least four roundabouts to becoming a sea-food seller in front of Quilox.

Teni steps away from the impersonation to speak for her own wishes on the eponymous Billonaire. And to make these claims, she has gotten South African cry and vivid poetry and unvarnished aspiration. Just when you think ingredients have flooded the acoustic cuisine, then slides in a mid-tempo Shaku-Shaku compliant riff. Say nothing about the resplendent guitars or the catchy refrain. On Billionaire, the song, Teni outdid herself on her best song yet. To consider her entire discography prior to now as mere practice will be rewarding, being a billionaire is some kind of superhero aspiration that playing at Power Rangers may have prepared her for.

The album though smooth on its sail has got rough moments. Complain is one. A tentative party starter about showing off, perhaps a music video may straighten its appeal, but at this rate, Teni’s touch is almost that of gold.

Superwoman can’t be skipped because it gives us another wedding reception opener. Lovers can connect to the strength of Teni’s vision. Think about grenade and rains and professing eternal affection in lush wedding attires, casting sparkles and glint at the warm reception of standing ovation and Superwoman brings the superhero to another half-circle.

Shayo is yet another trough. A bit fast tempo, it equates inebriation and automatic obedience within a party set-up. Regardless of the non-grounding nature of it, it deserves an elaborate leg work.

Online, the final song, recruits that same electric guitar from Billionaire, to layer another long song about long distance love. Online, a metaphor that lends itself quickly to internet fraud, is whitewashed to stand in for affection. But rather than lean into the minor accomplishment of Essence and Jaywon on Facebook Love, Teni takes her refrain partly from Ebenezer Obey’s Gbo Temi and her hook partly from Jarule and Asanti’s monster hit Always on Time.

Her accomplishment in such few songs is staggering. And even though she could have collected her singles and fleshed out this work into an LP, she chose to keep it short and new and fresh.

Trust me, there is so much more where this came from!

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