I’m a big fan of Brymo and I had been looking forward to his album, Son of A Kapenta, as soon as it was announced. Apart from liking his music, I was curious to see, like many other people, if he was going to be afflicted by the ‘Nate Dogg Disease’ – an undoubtedly talented artiste who shoots to fame by featuring on other people’s songs and albums and then when he releases his own album, it elicits a great big ‘meh’.
So I finally got the album a few days ago and I have listened to it non stop everyday for something like 3 days straight at the time of writing this post. Nothing to be worried about, it’s a pretty good album.
But I think I have also discovered why I like the guy’s music – why I was looking forward to his album. Brymo solves the ‘Fuji Problem’, at least for me.
I will confess to being a closet fan of Fuji Music for some time now. There was a time when I couldn’t get enough of Saheed Osupa and Obesere. I remember when I first moved to London many years ago and still struggling to qualify as an accountant. One afternoon on my way home from classes, the bus I was riding in broke down and I had to get down and catch another bus. As I walked to the bus stop, I spotted the Omo Rapala himself across the road sitting in a car by himself. As if in a trance, I crossed the road and went to say hello to him and even shamelessly declared myself to be a fan. He immediately seized the moment to plug his upcoming concert somewhere in South London and as soon as he said it, I recoiled immediately and took my leave. This is the Fuji Problem, at least for me – it is not easily accessible. It can be too hardcore and difficult to get into if you are not the most determined ‘crossover’ fan. As much as I might have enjoyed Obesere’s music, there was no way on earth I was going to be caught dead or alive at a live concert of his. The image of area boys going crazy and breaking bottles that immediately flashed before my eyes was enough to put paid to that.
I used to have a similar problem with Rock music. I wanted to get into it but I just couldn’t. The very things that were the signature of that genre – heavy bass guitars, head moving wildly about diseased chickens – were the things that put me off. Until Matchbox Twenty came along, at least for me. Their 2002 album, More Than You Think You Are, was the album that made Rock music ok for me. I remember listening to Unwell and thinking so a Rock band can do this? Rock music for me was no longer just Metallica or Mötley Crüe.
Casual Fuji music fans are very rare, if I can make such an assertion without conducting any research. Most crossover fans brought up on a Hip-Hop diet will go as far as Juju Music and no further. Shina Peters’ Ace album, if nothing else, made sure of that. I remember driving through Enugu with my parents in the early 90s and hearing the album blaring out of a couple of houses.
Back to my Fuji love; I have since lost touch with the genre. All I have now are the songs I remember from like a decade ago. A friend was helpful enough to help me organise a stash from Nigeria – ranging from Pasuma to Atawewe – a couple of years ago but I havent had the heart to listen to them since. Before now the halfway house between hardcore Fuji and the hip hop generation was, very debatably, King Wasiu Ayinde Marshall or whatever he calls himself these days.
I think that Brymo, at least partially, solves this problem, to the extent that it can be called a problem. Genre wise, the album is all over the place but it is testament to the talent range of the artiste more than anything else. He can do different things very easily and well. The last 3 tracks on the album for instance all sound very different but are all quite good. For those who grew up listening to R&B and who find the world of hardcore Fuji a terrifying place, Brymo handily presents a very useful option – as if he’s holding your hand and saying ‘It’s ok to enjoy Fuji music the way I do it’. Perhaps I exaggerate a little but you get the gist. In short, finally we have a ‘Fuji artiste’ who is ‘one of us’.
The song that best demonstrates this on the album is Akara. It opens with like any normal Naija Hip-Hop song and then without warning segues into a deliciously unmistakable Fuji riff. Even if you disagree, the nasal tones with which he delivers the Yoruba bits of the song are very much Fuji. But he does this skilfully – he teases and then draws you back to the reason why you are his fan in the first place i.e. Naija Hip-Hop. I like it.
As if to underscore this point, the next song on the album, If You Were Mine, is decidedly un-Fuji where he delivers veiled ‘threats’ as to the lengths he would go to spoil the woman he is in love with. But the Fuji hints are unmistakable on many other songs on the album from 1986 to my current favourite on the album, Omoge Campus, a thundering herd of trumpets and drums. Do yourself a favour; if you are going to listen to this song, turn it up really loud. With due consideration for your neighbours of course. I have had it on repeat for a day now. There’s of course Ara which served as the trailer to the album and Good Morning Omoge. All very enjoyable harmless good fun.
This ‘teasing’ continues with the version of Yoruba he delivers some of his lines in. If we imagine that the journey from Ibadan to Lekki in Lagos is a continuos dilution of the Yoruba language from the hardcore Ibadan version to the mish mash that you hear in Lekki peppered with English words and heavily accented by its English influences, then Brymo’s Yoruba sits halfway on this journey, somewhere around the Sagamu junction, figuratively speaking. On If You Were Mine he uses ‘lo’ as his verb (with an Ibadan pronunciation even) as opposed to ‘ni’ which is what you might hear in Lekki. Subtle but I found it all rather interesting.
Many months ago, I saw a conversation online between a couple of friends discussing Flavour’s music. I took the plunge and bought his N’abania album the next day. Without understanding a word of Igbo, I found myself listening to Nwata and N’abania over and over again for weeks after that. In other words, Flavour solves the Oliver De Coque problem for the Hip-Hop Generation.
As Jay-Z once said; there’s only good music and bad music out there. Nothing else. Indeed, some months ago I was walking to Wembley stadium for the Olympic Football final between Mexico and Brazil and a Mexican Mariachi band was serenading us. I immediately made a mental note to find more of such music.
So what is the point of all this grammar? I think artistes who can bridge the divide between the current music buying generation and the out of reach genres like Fuji or even the Dan Maraya Jos music I grew up listening to in Kaduna are very useful. The purists will always moan and complain but Hollywood is constantly reaching into its back catalogue and remaking old movies for a new generation (Batman? Avengers?). People like Tunji Oyelana for instance wont be with us forever. Yes you can always listen to Mo Lo Soko on YouTube if you want to, but there’s nothing wrong with updating it for a new generation – with auto-tune and techno beats even – given that the message is so timeless. Same goes for Ebenezer Obey’s music which fades deeper and deeper into history with every passing day. Ota Mi Dehin Leyin Mi can be given the Ara treatment. The danger of not doing this is that for kids born today, such music might become inaccessible to them culturally when they are in their teens and older.
All of this suggests, at least to me, that without even having to come up with new material or borrowing from the predominant US hip-hop culture, our artistes can mine the back catalogue of songs that were popular with our parents. It might even lead to divide-bridging conversations between parents and children.
I think you should buy Brymo’s Son of A Kapenta. It’s a good album. I don’t hesitate at all in recommending it.
P.S If you judge me over my Fuji music love confession, then I’m afraid I will have to stop telling you things on this here blog