As album titles go, Yemi Alade’s sophomore effort is as bland and unimaginative as they come. Why, when it comes to fabulous females,- living or dead- laying claim to mothering an entire continent of nations, hasn’t it all been done before? And don’t you have to do something worthwhile; culturally or politically, asides from putting out crossover hit singles to actually earn the title?
The late Mariam Makeba did her bit to end South Africa’s evil Apartheid regime. So did Brenda Fassie of blessed memory, as well as the living Yvonne Chaka Chaka, who both spoke up in song and activism for the cause of Nelson Mandela, at the time the most famous prisoner on the planet. Current Grammy darling, Angelique Kidjo has documented the stories of her native Beninoise people and marketed it to a wider audience. Any such claim for the title by her management would perhaps be understandable.
What has the 27 year old Yemi Alade done to award herself this huge title? Despite the odds stacked against her, she managed to craft a singular pop record so danceable and so melodious, it became the song that could, seeping past its Nigerian origins to find an audience all over the continent. A French version plus a string of Francophone and Swahili baiting material later, Alade has become as famous in other parts of the continent as she is at home, spending more and more time doing tours and shows across the continent. Can you blame her for thinking she is the best thing since Makeba?
And she may well be, if hit singles and shrewd packaging are the only indicators for coming to such conclusions. Who decides these things anyway?
At the 2016 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards,- a Nigerian affair if ever there was one,- Alade struggled to impress a hall packed with her compatriots with new material from Mama Africa. Na Gode, recorded with Selebobo, her comrade in arms and brains behind her biggest hit, Johnny came across as another tepid praise and worship box ticking effort. The album cut is more vibrant than Alade’s AMVCA performance made it out to be. Acting as Mama Africa’s album opener, it does its job very well, bringing high energy to the proceedings while staying true to the man upstairs. Africans love their God and any mother knows to raise her kids on the God first maxim. Perhaps this mama should get more credit than we have given her so far.
Mothers evoke memories of warm embraces, welcoming smiles, accessible kitchens and excellent food. Yemi Alade has always had a food fetish and she brings this habit to the next song, Tumbum. Selebobo is on the beat again, manufacturing another utterly danceable confection of drums while Alade opens with a lamentation directed at an undependable lover who likes Nkechi’s Jollof but prefers Alade’s delicious beans. This feckless fellow, also in the habit of mixing Nkechi’s fufu with Alade’s soup has come to the end of the road as Alade uses the childhood game, Tumbum as metaphor to demand her man makes a choice once and for all.
If traces of Johnny come up again here, then it is because at its core, Tumbum is a play for another massive radio hit. It works though, certainly better than the forgettable Dorcas which turns Johnny over on its head and casts the female this time as the object of her vituperations. Lazy stuff is done here.
Alade is playing for a sizable, more salt of the earth audience and so her record does not seek the approval of modern day feminists. She is unabashedly materialistic on Ferrari, a song that depending on how seriously one takes it, sets the whole feminism movement steps back. Powered by serial hitmaker, DJ Coublon,- he of the high strung guitars and intoxicating brew of rock and highlife,- Ferrari’s lyrics are laughably unoriginal. Alade sings, Oga I don tire to stay Mainland/ E no go bad if you buy me mansion for Banana Island/ Open supermarket for me for Netherlands. Her message is suspect, a full on endorsement of transactional sex, but goodluck resisting the feel good finish of the entire production.
Coming a ways from her King of Queens debut, Mama Africa shows marked improvement in the Yemi Alade artistry. Her influences are more diverse, the songs better produced, the guest stars are richer (P-Square, Sauti Sol, Flavour) and there is more coherence and thought put into the presentation.
Of course, this does not always translate into superior material. Except on a few occasions where she wears her influences on her sleeves; among them; Kelele which channels King Sunny Ade, and Komkom which takes its obvious origins from Onyeka Onwenu’s Iyogogo, the sound of Mama Africa is essentially one big dance party.
The title is only a ruse to thread her influences and copy catting into a cohesive effort. But at the end of the day Mama Africa is as Nigerian pop as they come, only presented by an artiste with increasing foreign tastes. Azonto, Swahili, Coupe-decale, Juju, Fuji, Miss Alade tries them all and succeeds to an extent.
She deserves credit for effort.