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'Sounds From The Other Side' Cements Wizkid As A Global Concern

Wizkid utilises all resources at his disposal to make his best project yet with 'Sounds From The Other Side.'

Hindsight may be a privileged point from which to claim prescience, but it was already clear by 2011 what an exciting artist Wizkid is.


He was 21 then and to say his debut, Superstar, was promising is to ignore the satisfaction songs like “Pakurumo” and “Tease Me / Bad Guys” still deliver today.

Three years later, Ayo followed, and is today a modern afrobeats classic that may be a little off-focus as an album, but has bags of brilliant songwriting that include “Ojuelegba” and “Show You The Money.”

The outstanding singles since then have included “Expensive Shit,” “Final (Baba Nla)” and “Like This.” The features have been numerous, but no less impressive, including highlights like “Bamilo” with May D, never likely to make an album or get any real shine as standalone single.

Yet, fans agitated for this third album, when anyone interested could have easily compiled a solid and enjoyable playlist of 20 songs, and even pick a title of their choosing.

The wait, however, is well worth it for Wizkid appears to have amassed and utilised all resources at his disposal to make what must be his best project yet with Sounds From The Other Side, though Ayo has had three years to mature.

Wizkid’s lyrics and subject matter hasn't changed much with successive projects. It's now clear that his genius is in melodies: creating a feeling, rather than creating lyrics that create a feeling. He's able to do this in abundance and with ease.

Some of his most focused writing on Sounds From The Other Side is done on “Picture Perfect,” where his knack for effective hooks is buoyed by simple and clean verses, free of fluff. The hollow beat whose two prominent sounds are a soft percussion and echoey piano leaves his voice naked, allowing for clarity.

The only shoddiness here is found on Apple Music’s lyrics page which clearly doesn't recognise ‘Nigerian’ as a language. Rather than have “we send nobody” to mean not caring about people’s opinions, it has “we said nobody”. Also, the word “omoge” is misquoted as “oh my girl” which weirdly isn't far off from the intended meaning.

His pal Chris Brown peaked as a Michael Jackson impersonator on “Fine China,” as has Wizkid on “Sexy,” which has to be his best distillation of Fela Kuti yet. He doesn’t slavishly emulate Fela’s singing but references enough of it. Neither has producer Spellz shackled himself to Egypt 80 for he smoothes over any hard afrobeat grooves with twinkly guitars and a pronounced bass. Efya, for her part, adds real depth with her bell-toll of a voice.

One suspects that not too many producers in the afrobeats-sphere would be too pleased that Major Lazer is getting top billing on a Wizkid project, when they locally source and churn out the “true” stuff at more reasonable prices. Led by piano and finger claps, the beat is here given legit afrobeats accreditation on “Naughty Ride.”

If you ever wondered what Fela’s voice would sound like when treated with auto-tune, the answer is in “Sweet Love,” which makes no bones about borrowing from “Shakara (Oloje).” The words and melodies may be a tribute to the Fela of the 1970s, but the song as a whole is closer to Majek Fashek’s own interpretations of the 90s which he called kpangolo.

The bass guitar on "Sweet Love" could have easily come from “Love and Affection” and Wizkid’s cadence is strongly reminiscent of Fashek’s, down to his pronunciation of the word “love." Both men combine to make a song which, on initial listens, doesn't quite excite but repays value over time and away from other songs on the album.

The most impassioned singing has been saved for “Nobody,” especially on the hook where poise gives way to real feeling. This is vulnerable-Wiz pleading for a lover to stay and it does actually sound sincere. The writing and beat is neat and concise, freed from the clutter of ad libs, instruments or features.

Dre Skull—whose shepherded sounds for Jamaican dancehall stars Popcaan and Vybz Kartel—handled the production work on “Daddy Yo”, released in December of last year. It's a clear clue that Wizkid has his eye on dancehall.

Clever use of primary school rhymes with numbers in the second verse continues to showcase his head for the simple and effective. The second verse could well be the hook and the song would still be as good.

The cultural exchange program that led to the “Ojuelegba” remix with Skepta and “One Dance” with Drake was already on the way on “African Bad Gyal” with Chris Brown. What’s more, Brown does a very good job modulating his Yankee accent to match Wizkid’s, going a step further than Drake’s still impressive turn on the “Ojuelegba” remix. Made by SARZ, the beat retraces the afrobeat-meets-EDM mash of “Beat of Life”.

Del B’s previous works with Wizkid includes well known gems like “Pull Over” with Kcee and, a personal favourite, “Oshe” with Reminisce, neither of which suffer in comparison to “Gbese” with Trey Songz, decent as it is. It also comes as near-relief that Songz has chosen to stick to his American R&B lane here rather than make insincere or desperate afrobeats overtures.t

One wonders why Ty Dolla $ign has two guest spots on a most important afro-pop project, neither of which is exceptional. The first ("One For Me") is in fact a naked riff 0f SWV’s “You’re The One” which could chart well, airlifted above average by '90s nostalgia.

The second Ty Dolla $ign feature is “Dirty Wine” an overused phrase over an overused beat by DJ Mustard. A large portion of his production work so far hangs on the thinnest of thread, having one dominant bass synth which, when anything less than brilliant, can be super-dull.

This one isn’t, and should do well on charts, but as radio R&B it is not much distinguished from the deluge we’ve accustomed to. That said, the small pleasure of hearing a Nigerian-ism like “dull me” on a DJ Mustard beat that must still go for hefty sums makes up for a lot.

The “prince” of afrobeats proves to be a great match for the “princess” of house music on the real delight that is “All For Love” whose blend of styles and languages is seamless.

House music manages its frequently heavy rhythms without being tedious, in the way club bangers could never soothe. Top this up with the real warmth in Bucie’s voice and the clarity in Wizkid’s when both implore “be my lover, be my friend” and even a stony-heart couldn't resist, as both do their bit to improve Nigerian-South African relations.

These really are the sounds from the other side, but exactly which side this is depends not on Wizkid, but the individual who asks. For the album is as African as it is American, never neither, always both.

What's clear is that this is a true afro-fusion album, well-balanced between world conquering ambitions and the culture whence it came.

If Superstar (2011) cast a spell over Nigeria and Ayo (2014) held it over Africa, now Sounds From The Other Side has, as noted on Apple Music, made Wizkid a true “global concern."

'Sounds From The Other Side' is available now. Stream it below on Apple Music and Spotify.

Photos
"The Astral." Photo by Mikael Owunna.

This Photo Series Is a Much-Needed Counter to Violent Images of the Black Body

"Infinite Essence" is Nigerian-American photographer Mikael Owunna's response to the one-dimensional narrative we tend to see of the black body.

This beautiful, thought-provoking photo series affirms what we already know—that the black body is magical, no matter what odds are against us.

Nigerian-American photographer, Mikael Owunna, touched base with OkayAfrica to share his new photo series, Infinite Essence. The series is Owunna's response to America's issue of police brutality, like the murders of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile and Walter Scott, and the viral and violent images of the dead black body we've seen as a result.

"It has become frighteningly routine to turn on the television or log onto Facebook and see a video or image of a black person either dead or dying, like images of Africans dying in the Mediterranean," Owunna says.

"With this series, I work to counter these one-dimensional narratives of the black body as a site of death and destruction with imagery capturing what I see in my friends, family and community—love, joy, and ultimately, magic."

Owunna worked on Infinite Essence for the past year, and says his creative process began with a feeling. As he notes further, it's was a process of trial and error.

"I was beginning to explore my own spirituality and journey and learning about how black, queer and trans people in particular were respected for their magical abilities in many pre-colonial African societies. I was meditating on this idea of magic and how I can capture that in my work, harkening back to the 'Final Fantasy' video games and anime series I grew up on. How could I capture all of this? I did two pretty disastrous test shoots using long exposures and lights, that did nothing for me artistically.

It had none of the feeling I was looking for. So I went back to the drawing board. I pulled up Google image search results of magic in Final Fantasy and kept scrolling and scrolling and staring at images that had that emotional tug, that spiritual capture of magic and transcendence that I so wanted to bring into the work. As I was staring at the works, a voice in my head told me glow in the dark paints, and then from looking at that I found the world of UV photography. As soon as I saw some sample works in that space, I knew that was the direction the project would go and it was all steam ahead."

Shooting this series was the first time Owunna collaborated with makeup artists Karla Grifith-Burns and Davone Goins to bring his vision to life. "It was powerful and inspirational and brought so much structure to my feeling and thought," he says.

Owunna settled on the name of his series after reading about Odinani, the Igbo traditional belief system.

"Seeking to understand the basics of that, I came across brilliant writing by Chinua Achebe wherein he used the phrase 'infinite essence' and that clicked everything around it," he says. "When I can name something, it brings it to life in my head in stunning color."

Click through the slideshow below view Owunna's series, Infinite Essence. Read his artist statement for the project, where he speaks more in depth of Achebe's work on infinite essence here. The series is also on display at Owunna's solo exhibition at Montréal's Never Apart Gallery from today until April 7, 2018.

"The Astral." Photo by Mikael Owunna.

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