Artist: Brymo
Album: Klitoris
Label, Year: Independent, 2016

In a way you and Brymo are in a fight. You want him happy. He sings like happiness is overrated. You want to keep him happy because his music becomes something you can dance to, you can set to happy times. In ten years, you will remember those good times. Brymo, though, wants the purer emotion of sadness, of sobriety. Tell him God forbid.

Yet if you have been listening, you can understand Brymo’s reluctance to shed this fabric of semi-pathos. It served the man well, setting his sound apart from the gleeful mindlessness of most Nigerian pop.

You remember ‘Down’, his ditty of societal dysfunction, both for the song itself and for how different it sounded within the landscape of dance-pop. You remember ‘Eko’ for its disappointment in Lagos, Brymo’s city. Both songs were on his third album Merchant, Dealers and Slaves (2013). That album was borne of harsh times: His record label had prevented him from releasing new material. The injunction was lifted but the news lifted the man’s mood only by a fraction.

By Tabula Rasa (2014), signs of happiness began to show. For one, we got the uber-sex song ‘Fe Mi’. Coaxing vocals! Buoyant beat! Rhythmic drum-thumps as though in time to a lover’s strokes! All evidence of a man free of legal troubles. And yet when it was time to release promo videos for the album, the choice was the sober ‘Je’le O Sinmi’, and the relatively joyful ‘One Pound’. You had to buy the album to know of Brymo’s other side. Happy, horny Brymo, it appeared, must be kept secret.

With his new album, the remarkable Klitoris, perhaps the secret is out. No one unused to the workings of that part of the female anatomy would feel comfortable naming an album after it, metaphor be damned. Appropriately, the album’s first song is titled ‘Naked’. Somehow, the song doesn’t quite become happy. The Brymo who believes that soberness and age go together remains. (This is a particular feature of young men who feel undeserving of their youth. You want to tell them to relax, age leaves no one behind.)

But, of course, Brymo makes the triteness of this brand of cynicism easy to take. Deep as they be in the doldrums of soberness or indulgent of their maker’s lyrical depth, many of his songs retain a suppleness that while unyielding to full-on dance, do have a propelling quality. So that with this artist, a cerebral recognition of his gifts doesn’t preclude a physical response to the music. The representative of this Brymo-genre on Klitoris is ‘Kosayami’. At a point on this song, the beat breaks down and the next words are:

I dey fear to commit
To promise
You dey fear to succeed
To be free
We dey beat round the bush

Somehow Brymo has equated a fear of commitment—a plight of many a young man—to the fear of success. A tricky comparison to be sure, but a thread does run through: the fear in both cases is not the result but the transitory process. Change is a hard thing to engage with both for the underachiever and the single man. It is lines such as these that Brymo has built his reputation on.

Klitoris, stripped and personal, is not quite as excellent as Tabula Rasa, Brymo’s broad masterwork, but it is a much happier album than its predecessors—already a video has been made for one of its happy tunes, ‘Something Good is Happening’. Even so Brymo understands that in the Afrobeat genre, a happy beat is an ambiguous device. It either masks unhappy lines or emphasises happy ones.

Whatever the mood, the genre insists on the usefulness of dance, of the swaying of hips on a makeshift dancefloor. Here the other happy songs ‘Alajo Shomolu’ and ‘Happy Memories’ show both sides of the Afrobeat man’s approach to joy. The latter is no Afrobeat song as far instrumentation goes. Its percussive patterns are different. A love song, ‘Happy Memories’ recalls the simple pleasures of a man lost in the vastness of love: If you bring me happy memories / I’ll be your happy memory.

Banal perhaps. And yet you can see the narrator and his love interest walking, hand in hand, down a deserted street looking at the ruins of ancient buildings. Perhaps, this is an image incompatible with Fela’s ultra-masculine Afrobeat. But even the late, great musician is no match for the potency of love.

With ‘Alajo Shomolu’, our Afrobeat man is back to Fela as it is a celebration of survival despite the dismal circumstances of Nigeria. Reminiscent of ‘One Pound’, the lyrics go from

I go from grace to grass
Back to grass to grace
Life na roller coaster
When the time no dey dey
And the leader too dey play
And the people too dey hurry
If you manage to survive
Dem go say
Orie e pe bi alajo shomolu 

The first bit is autobiographical as it covers Brymo’s own rise to stardom and then the lawsuit years and, finally, his return to releasing music. But then, the personal moves out to take in the political. It was Fela’s approach to songwriting as well. The man’s feminist takedown track ‘Lady’ (1972) is said to have been about his own elder sister, and within a few lines this family member became the emblem of a certain notion of womanhood in Nigeria. This, however, is not knowledge needed to enjoy Klitoris.

Respond as you please: dance to some of it, think to some of it. You could also fight with the artist’s insistence on mid-tempo music. Brymo will win though. Not too many artists can elicit that wide a range of responses from a 35-minute album.

Culled from: Music In Africa

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