NINIOLA: THIS IS ME — ALBUM REVIEW
Music is a game of tastes and endorsement amongst other things because as much as artistes — Nigerian especially — want to discredit their stance, fans and listeners are why artistes function. That’s one reason why we do album reviews when we can; contributing our 2 cents to the culture, hoping someone relates to a thing or two. Niniola is the latest subject in a long, illustrious history of appreciation and invectives. Finally, the Queen of afro-house has dropped that work…
How proverbial; penning an article 2 days before an album release, about the subject while completely oblivious. You can cop some of that article here.
I am resigned to vintage Nigerian fawning on Niniola’s new album This Is Me. Of course, most of them undeserved, probably even lolling you into a sprawl of frenetic hype before your maiden listening experience. Maybe I’m defaulted to cynicism on rating Nigerian projects, but I believe myself a fair judge people can relate with/to if only they’d be fair. In truth, no one is an absolute authority in judging art. That said, only a few Nigerians albums have been worth top marks in the past 20 years — maybe 7.
I love Niniola, her aura is infectious. She’s the kind of woman you’ll probably love without falling even as much as a conversation and it’s not about her voluptuousness — at least, that’s what I like to think. As expected, acclaim rings across the media its her maiden effort and I’m proud of her, but is this album really an ace fit? Let’s find out.
My review will review certain facets that make up the album.
Track Listing, Arrangement and Genre Balance
Usually, track listing greatly accentuates sonic brilliance of a body of work. Your arrangement greatly matters to your output, as sometimes it’s what determines cohesion, even when your album has no central story or isn't a concept album. There has to be a sequential flow and sensitivity to the genre your album largely belongs to or borrows from. It’s the key precursor to enjoyment asides brilliance of your tracks. Most people like going for balance and allure for inaugural tracks, but I think that’s a cliché and Niniola buys into this cliché, sadly with Moyo.
It’s 2017, you can start your album with any genre you darn well please so long it fuses with your project’s central genre or else, you risk making a saturated project resembling a graffiti kaleidoscope. Truth is, it doesn't have to be an alternative or slow paced song because you want it to inspire introspect and trigger appreciation. Okay, maybe it does, but on an album like this, it makes someone like me roll my eyes. It’s an unnecessary embellishment.
I like her attempts at diversity, but songs like Moyo and Oyin don’t feel natural. They feel belabored and Niniola’s A&R should have done better. Instead of going alternative on a house album, I’d have preferred a dabble in some dub-step (an example is Sigma and Paloma Faith’s Changing), R&B, Eastern European Dance music a la Alexandra Stan/Inna; something off the ‘Take Care Drake’ alley with hard hitting drums, mimicking pop or maybe trap infused-dub step like on Jetta’s I’d Love To Change The World. Then, we’d have that balance. With her track listing, her music seems all over the place. Whereas a better one, would have made the album sound better than a collage of meticulously recorded singles.
Delivery and Style
Niniola has one of the distinctive styles around, you almost call every afro-house track a Niniola song. This is a commendable feat, only a few people manage to completely own genres or sub genres, for this, I praise her.
Another thing that stands out for me; the way she approaches beats. Her smoothness gives paints you a picture of Niniola on a chair like Haruna Ishola, singing with ease. She let’s the beats do their job, and just drop her bit with convenience like a Fuji musician at a bourgeoisie event. She seems in her element and at her own pace and that’s usually a plus. It bodes well for the future. I've always loved her, I know she will get better. It could however also be weakness and make her songs light as I addressed on that article.
It’s almost trite now that Niniola has a brilliant ear for beats. Here again, that ability comes to the fore, but the truth is nothing is new — they lacked sonic depth of uniqueness and that extra layer to hit the next level; it’s usually either light percussion or light strings. Great sounds though, it I expect only a few people to understand this. The rest will calling it “hating”.
I like to think this is because Nini goes for a particular sound which seems a bit restrictive. Saro best exemplifies this narrative; it was almost there, but it relied excessively on drums and percussion and lacked the necessary strings to hit that next level when it mattered. Rora however stands above the rest; it achieves everything Saro and most of the other songs fail to accomplish. In production, balance is needed to attain that perfection. Hold Me is also beautiful.
Thematic Lyrical Cohesion/Depth
For better or worse, Nigerian music has adapted to watering down lyricism as a fundamental part of music making — especially on commercial sounds. Over time though, we’d discover how it fares, but if you've made an attempt at lyricism as a Nigerian artistes, logic demands you finish what you started.
On this album, Niniola’s stories lacked cohesion. She regularly jumped ship from one narrative to another on one track at a time. The odd Yoruba proverbs on also felt absurd to the respective narratives they were stuck on. Even though lyrics aren't a core part of commercial music, she seemed to beat about a number meaningless, shallow and uncompleted topics. As good as Rora is, it falls within that category. Asides the awkward alternative songs, Hold Me is the only one that makes any lyrical sense.
As a side note, my allusion on her singles Maradona and Sicker have been somewhat disputed on this album; not entirely though. Most of the songs on this album are dense even if lyrics don’t make sense. While that’s a plus, her songs still lack depth, meaning and substance.
Her voice is amazing and I love how she intermittently flaunts her vocal range and melody. She’s truly blessed. While someone like Tiwa Savage makes you wanna choke with her very thin and harsh vocals, Niniola has vocals to savor for days. Love her.
It portrays everything I noted; it was off. It lacked a certain level of dynamism, substance and meaning. It seemed like a ‘do it, for the need’ thing.
Incredibly pertinently, I appreciate her meticulousness at striving at cultural diversity of sounds, production and features — completely neglecting the more popular African artistes for the strategically selected. Kudos to her and Falz for also attempting to sing in foreign tongues. Maybe Drake did something good with his pathetic accent Imitation on More Life after all.
A solid 3.5/5 for this impressive but very imperfect maiden effort. I know what you’re thinking; why so nice a rating despite my heavy criticisms? You’d rarely a better Nigerian dance album, her beats will sound good to most Nigerians even though largely imperfect to me, she’s owned a whole sub genre with this album and This Is Me is a thoroughly impressive debut.
Again, Niniola has a likable aura, you can’t help but love her, but we must always tell the truth, completely neglecting the hype. We’re here to address facts, not please anyone. While certain songs standout, and most songs are average, even the average songs are still commendable for one thing or the other. It seems a collage of sporadically recorded singles put into one body of work, with a concerted effort at bettering the ordinary recording sessions as opposed to recording geared at an album. A song like Magun shouldn’t have made the album.
Rora, Always Here and Hold Me.
By PennedMusingsNG for Urban Central @Weird_Liberal on Twitter
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