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Dami Ajayi

That Flavour is not a hyped musician, or that he has successfully crossed over from highlife into popular music is a bit of delight, if not a major triumph. At a time when highlife is a tool of nostalgia; the stuff that graying men (and women) warm what is left of their milk of youth with, Flavour is taking the edge out of that highlife flavour and dropping it straight into popular music.

Following mixed receptions of his fourth album, Thankful, the tenacious Flavour is back with yet another LP which he calls Ijele The Traveler. This title ferries in a horde of influences that are recognisable to those steeped in the Igbo culture. There is the folklore about the bravery of that eponymous man who attempts to save a virtuous woman – different versions of this exists in Igboland. With an ambitious album title, 17 songs lasting 63 minutes, Flavour is ready to remedy the inadequacies of his previous album—or so it seems. Ijele The Traveler is also named for what is considered the biggest masquerade in Igboland— Flavour is mining culture here.

Blessed sits on the Flavour corpus, as of now, right in the middle as his third and, by far, his most elegant album. On this LP, he finds a delicate balance of Igbo folklore, highlife, pop influences, gospel references and contemporary idioms. What resulted from that project is not only a formidable album but a template for subsequent albums.

That Flavour is not a hyped musician, or that he has successfully crossed over from highlife into popular music is a bit of delight, if not a major triumph. At a time when highlife is a tool of nostalgia; the stuff that graying men (and women) warm what is left of their milk of youth with, Flavour is taking the edge out of that highlife flavour and dropping it straight into popular music.

Following mixed receptions of his fourth album, Thankful, the tenacious Flavour is back with yet another LP which he calls Ijele The Traveler. This title ferries in a horde of influences that are recognisable to those steeped in the Igbo culture. There is the folklore about the bravery of that eponymous man who attempts to save a virtuous woman – different versions of this exists in Igboland. With an ambitious album title, 17 songs lasting 63 minutes, Flavour is ready to remedy the inadequacies of his previous album—or so it seems. Ijele The Traveler is also named for what is considered the biggest masquerade in Igboland— Flavour is mining culture here.

Blessed sits on the Flavour corpus, as of now, right in the middle as his third and, by far, his most elegant album. On this LP, he finds a delicate balance of Igbo folklore, highlife, pop influences, gospel references and contemporary idioms. What resulted from that project is not only a formidable album but a template for subsequent albums.

Since Blessed, we know what to expect of a typical Flavour album. If Thankful falls short of Blessed, it is only for a few paces. The Thankful album also gave us Golibe, the single most important contemporary Igbo love ballad—which you may guess—was adapted from Igbo folklore. In popular culture, there is a tendency to linger over Ololufe, the duet with Chidinma, especially the lush and drawn-out kiss that was the highlight of the music video. Radio play reveals that Igbo Amaka is fast affirming its role as the quintessential contemporary Igbo praise song. In all of this, we can’t deny Flavour’s position as an illustrious Igbo griot.

Flavour hails from Umunze, Anambra and was bred in Enugu, he has taken his music by night-bus to Lagos, from where he now connects to the world. Perhaps this foregoing sentence would have been useful if the subtitle, The Traveler, matters to the fabric of this album.

Ijele The Traveler begins with a slow, guitar-hoisted ballad, Virtuous Woman, inducting the album to its mostly mid-tempo flow. Sarkodie is brilliant (as usual) in his verse, interpolating Twi and English on Sake of Love. Catch You rests on confident threats and food metaphor, which is typical of Flavour (if you remember Jollof rice and Tomatoes).

Baby Na Yoka, produced by his long-time collaborator Masterkraft, blends highlife and dancehall sound, although never rising above either genre to accomplishment. Jaiye amps up the tempo, Makossa style, but there is not much juice here— let’s simply say the music is heavy on routine and lean on surprise. One could argue that there is nothing unique about requesting for buttocks to be wiggled, but the same Flavour delivered Shake to us a few years ago.

One almost wishes to conclude that years have passed but Flavour’s music has stayed the same, but this is not the case: this new album pales, leaving a fainter hue when compared to Thankful. If Flavour worked this album on the basis of a template or an erstwhile formula, we may as well declare Ijele The Traveler a failed experiment.

There are hardly moments of magic here. The eponymous song, Ijele, is more Ogene music – the kind already made popular by Flavour and Zorro, than Highlife. Most of the featured artistes laboured painstakingly but couldn’t save Ijele The Traveler from its misery. The reggae-based Iheneme pales before Thankful’s Ololufe even though Chidinma, one-half culprit of the magic, is brought back. There are delightful guitar licks, as expected of a true son of the Anambra soil steeped in the highlife tradition that produced Stephen Ositadebe and Oliver de Coque, but making magical music is not only about the occasional riff.

It seems Flavour has outgrown his comfort box. It is time he broke out of his current creative bubble and forged ahead in his musical career. At the moment, we can declare that his current sound is, at best, bleats from a creative purgatory.

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