Simisola: Merging With Art…
(A Review of Simisola: The Album by ‘Joba Ojelabi)
There is no gainsaying in that Upcoming acts usually are in a more delicate place with the quality of their work than already established artistes, most especially when it comes to Debuts and sophomore projects. The delicacy of the former perhaps being due to the concept of first impressions and how long they last. Interestingly, this might not always be the case, especially in some kinds of art; like music, literature and a few others. Sometimes, a person can jump into the art, suck so grossly at it and grow out of that mediocrity. Such an artiste must however strive and work hard to improve. It is why in these industries, a person who has been around for a while might remain unknown until such a person makes a ‘hit’. But what comes after the hit? This is where the sophomore impression comes in. An artist, after a hit, should be able to reproduce such success, if possible on an even larger scale. This is what goes on to cast in stone any impression the debut might have left in the mind of the audience. And so, as much as mediocrity might be pardonable in some forms of art, before a transition into professionalism can be fully acknowledged, a minimal level of improvement must become reproducible by the artist. It is perhaps why some Nigerian artistes who have been in the industry for a number of years would still be regarded as “upcoming” despite producing a few hit songs; that lack of consistency! It then becomes interesting when an artiste still in this delicate region of her career goes on to take an even bigger risk with her debut!
Self-titled music albums can sometimes be very tricky, especially for an upcoming artiste. I mean, Beyoncé can call her album “Beyoncé”, sing whatever she likes and get away with it. But for an act that doesn’t own that kind of veteran license yet, it can be tricky business especially if the quality of such an album is not at its optimal level. Self-titled albums are usually personal; they are a means by which an artist expresses himself in his art such that a fusion between the two is inevitable. Sadly, sometimes the fusion can go awry, and if the art is not regarded as good enough, so is the artist and often times, in these cases, irrespective of any improvement that might come afterwards, the artist is already at some level, both literally and figuratively, bound to the work that shares his name. Interestingly, in my time listening to Nigerian music (which might not be as long), I have only come across only a few self-titled music albums that have caught my interest: First on the list being “Asa” by Bukola Elemide, who also goes by the same name on stage. And as is the case for many lovers of good music, the 2008 award winning album does hold a spot on my eternal playlist. Another being “Ayo” named after Ayo Balogun or Wizkid, as he is more often referred. However, unlike “Asa”, the second studio album of Wizkid might not have met the expectation of some fans, who without any reservations expressed their disappointments at the time of the album release. Funnily, “Ayo” was not a debut, it was an overdue follow up to a hit debut. Adekunle Gold, might also fall in the class of artistes with self-titled albums. After all, there is Gold in Adekunle Gold. However, when Simisola Ogunleye announced on her instagram page that her debut album would go by her first name, I really hoped that the album would live up to its name; a name that Simi herself had spent the past few years building, and amidst the thrill of anticipating the album, I feared that it wouldn’t.
Simisola is a 54-minute album and in that less than one hour, Simi does to us in bulk what she has been doing in bits over the past few years. The album opens with “Remind me”, a song that reminds us of what many religions preach but rarely practice. On a solemn beat flavoured by a lot of gentle instrumental, Simi reminds us by remembering herself what love is. The Jamb Question crooner then goes on to bring Sir Victor Uwaifo’s classic to the twenty-first century. In “Joromi”, Simi, with her graceful voice and some quality production, manages to create her own version of “Joromi”; one that unlike Uwaifos’ exposes the subtle things ladies do to get the attention of guys they fancy, especially in a society that does not allow the female throw too much advances at the other party. She repeats this feat again in “Aimasiko”, only this time it’s Chief Ebenezer Obey’s classic with a similar title that she remakes; giving it a modern twist, in her own little way encouraging a little patience in an age where everything and everyone seems to be in a hurry. “Complete Me” as the name might imply is a love ballad and haven’t we heard just enough of Simi to know how much she can handle her love songs. But it would seem that even love doesn’t last forever as in “Gone for Good”, Simi, in that slow solemn Sam Smith kind of way, delivers this attempt by a lover to move on from a heartbreak. This is the kind of song that makes you feel like Adele might just have some African links somewhere in her genealogy. “Original Baby” is perhaps the core of the album as Simi bares Simisola; the person, all in encouragement of originality. “One kain” is a tale of two friends who try to reach to a level higher than the friend zone. And on the eighth track of the album, its only feature comes in. Being the only featured artist on his album, one might be tempted to think that Adekunle Gold being the only feature on Simi’s album is some way to make things even. Interestingly, the song does bear some semblance with the Adekunle’s album collabo, only now, Simi is asking ‘Kunle, as she refers him on the song, to, in her words, “Take me Back”.
Things the get somewhat groovy as the ninth track of the album describes the Lagos frolic for vain ceremonies and the attention given these ceremonies. “O wa n be” describes what Saturdays in Lagos look like and the unrepentant ways of its people towards this lifestyle. Simi’s last single before the album; “Smile for me” comes in tenth and although, somewhat stale, the track somehow still comes off with a new vibe. “Angelina” is another testimony of Simi’s exceptional creativity, the song tells the not too unfamiliar story of the cheating boyfriend on a reggae beat. And although, the victim girlfriend in the song has already accepted a “side chick”, she goes ahead to discover another lady in the picture and according to her, this time it’s a no...no…no. “Hiphop hurray” comes on last on the album and does what it can to offer a lively exit.
The album comes with some bonus tracks, which are indeed worthy forerunners of the album; “Tiff”, "Jamb Question", and “Love Don’t Care”. As expected, Simi’s pristine voice goes a long way in making the album the wonder that it really is. With production credits to Seyikeyz, the problem kid; Sess, Vtex, and the more familiar Oscar Rackah, Simisola is a piece of art that might just be joining “Asa” and a few other self-titled albums on my eternal playlist. For indeed, in 54 minutes the album blissfully merges Simi with her art; a feat that many artistes spend an entire career trying to achieve…and very many never really do.