In my #2015InReview I wrote that: “Yemi Alade continued where she left off in 2014, staking her claim on the King of Queens title. After successes of Johnny and her début album, Yemi Alade went on tour, increasing her fanbase from Congo to Ghana to Zambia to Togo. 2015 was even bigger as the Effyzzie act sold-out shows in France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland on her European tour. She released videos for Sugar, Duro Timi, Pose, Temperature off King of Queens, and collaborated with Cameroonian and Kenyan acts. Yemi Alade’s efforts in the year under review could match that of her male counterparts; she lived up to her Mama Africa epithet grabbing MAMA Best Female Artiste, NEA Best Female Act, AFRIMA Best Female Artist in Western Africa, and getting nods from the MTv Europe Music Awards and BET.”
And much hasn’t changed for the Johnny singer save for her ever-changing hairstyle and the Kenyan outfits she now fancies.
On her début album, Yemi Alade appeared as one on a fashion début in her made-for-runway outfit and makeup however there has been a shift in art direction on her sophomore album to aptly reflect her Mama Africa tag in Maasai beaded collar and necklace and hair curled in four balls and nude makeup. Although her getup raised concerns from culture pundits: Is Nigerian-born Yemi Alade trying to act Kenyan? ‘Hair’ we go again with the flashy looks? Should we talk cultural appropriation or let the music do the talking? Mama Africa raised other germane concerns like: Why is Yemi Alade bent on appropriating the title known to South African legend Miriam Makeba? Yet another clichéd album title cut from the same King of Queens cloth? In Yemi Alade’s defence: the Mama Africa sobriquet was birthed in journeys around the continent, as rightly stated in my opening paragraph.
Mama Africa: The Diary of an African Woman shows improvement from her King of Queens offering in clear direction the album takes unlike what obtained on her début where her sound was all over the place. She sticks to achieving one thing: a dance album that incorporates sounds from her journeys. So you find Kenyan pop, azonto and a variant of hiplife from Ghana, Swahili-titled song and references to cater to the East African fanbase, coupé-décalé from Côte d’Ivoire for her francophone audience, Nigerian highlife and juju and fuji and afropop crafted for the home crowd. While DJ Arafat brings that francophone flavour, Nigeria’s Flavour spices things up with “oyolima” for those whose waists have not been stiffened by age. From Ghana with love, Sarkodie with his “money no be problem” replaces Mugeez of R2Bees who had a photographic moment on Pose on KoQs—it’s square peg in square hole for him on a track about money (Ego) though his cedi-filled pocket of rhymes failed to save the trite joint, even Masterkraft’s refurbished Finally chord progression couldn’t either.
Following their spectacular outing at Coke Studio Africa, boyband from Kenya, Sauti Sol, and Yemi Alade had an encore on dancehall Africa. Though guitarist Polycarp Otieno was conspicuously missing, the joyous mood of the track was by no means dampened. On Africa, they sing not about poverty, AIDS and public health concerns, lack and sorrow, but sensually about “African hands ‘em gon’ love you—African lips ‘em gon’ kiss you—African hips get down to you.” However she isn’t twice as lucky when she attempts to replicate the success of another live performance on Koffi Anan (Freestyle). Yemi Alade had an amazing delivery when she hopped on PhilKeyz-produced Ale Yi A Bad for MTV Base #ONTT so called up the same producer for azonto Koffi Anan (Freestyle). Unfortunately, the effort falls flat failing to be as memorable as the title aspired.
Yemi Alade’s African aspirations shouldn’t be taken wholesomely as the “diary of an African woman” subtitle suggests. Her sophomore album should be taken as a collection of sounds across the continent and not much to lead listeners into the traditions, beliefs and overall cultural and economic experiences of the countries she toured. When Beninese Angeliqué Kidjo had her own East African tour, she documented the stories of the people in her Grammy-winning Eve album. On the other hand, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly set out to draw parallels that exist between his South African journey and the Apartheid experience and his own crime-ridden Compton experience and institutional racism in America—those parallels were both an academic pursuit and a cultural revival for Black Lives Matter movement. Yemi Alade’s goal is quite different: while Ms. Kidjo brought other sounds into her music, Ms. Alade brings her music to our countries using their sounds. For instance, the DJ Arafat-assisted coupé-décalé Do As I Do was an improvement over the horrible-sounding Sugar on KoQs.
On the King Sunny Ade-sampled Kelele, Yemi Alade and Rotimi Keys deliver a mellow juju tune for those who love their lives in spite of vicissitudes of life. She ups the tempo on pop Baby’s Back singing in a fuji lilt backed by guitar twangs. Selebobo known for neo-highlife tunes breaks out of his shell for a salsa-tejano concoction titled Marry Me although not as feisty and lightheaded as her outing on Falz’s Marry Me nevertheless enjoyable. She tries for Omawumi’s Bottom Belle vibe- which is itself a cover of Herbert Udemba’s Bottom Belly- on highlife Ferrari which features Fioke’s mesmerizing riffs as she touches on transactional love. Yemi Alade’s experimentation works well on this album save for a few filler tracks and poorly thought-out song concepts. When she further milks the Johnny cow (cash cow?) for shoki Tumbum and eastern-flavoured Dorcas, the outcomes leave much to be desired.
The highlight of Mama Africa turns out on Flavour-assisted Kom Kom. Mr. Flavour inspired by Ms. Alade’s ayakata “low waist” gives one of his best performances while his muse leaves the seat of admiration to send thousands of “low waists” wiggling. Surprisingly, Yemi Alade ends dance album Mama Africa with a ballad Nakupenda perhaps telling her African fans “I love you!”