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Soundbender: Music, Mathematics, and Poetry Fused

Soundbender Cover

Artiste: Beautiful Nubia
Album: Soundbender
Record label: ẸniỌbańkẹ́ Music and Publishing
Number of tracks: 15
Year of release: 2015
Category: Contemporary Folk Music


For a performer who has consistently released albums—and not just studio works— for over two decades, no one would be surprised by the plus ultra of the rhythmic and lyric refinement on Beautiful Nubia’s latest album.

Beautiful Nubia, Nigeria’s foremost contemporary folk artiste (he is erroneously described on an MTV Artistes’ profile page as a reggae artiste just as Salif Keita is too), is the doctor of sounds performing auscultatory diagnosis of the communal ailments and revealing the socio-political infirmities of the continent on his 11th studio album titled Soundbender.

Beautiful Nubia draws the strength of his music from the Yorùbá copious corpus of folktales, folksongs and proverbs. This musical evangelist presents the wisdom, the impeccable understanding, and the wonderment of Yorùbá culture to the world, preserving the rich legacy of the Yorùbá inheritance so that the world benefits and appreciates it. Another artiste worthy of mention for performing similar service to the world is the Fuji music icon, Saheed Òṣùpá.

The understanding of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the philosopher, on music and mathematics when he said, ‘The pleasure we obtain from music comes from counting, but counting unconsciously. Music is nothing but unconscious arithmetic’ is apparent in the album. On the album, the poetry of musical mathematics is palpable to the listener. Beautiful Nubia bearing his musical calculations in mind imbued the album with terpsichorean notations calculable to the listeners as they respond to the tune. Certainly, mathematics is mankind’s first language, and mathematical aesthetics can be discerned on the album. The algorithm coded in traditional percussions and classy instrumentals in rhapsodic cadences, deeply mellisonant, corroborates that.

The artiste has again affirmed that there is just a thin line between music and poetry – and that thin line is performance. In the track, “Lights of Spain” for example, a listener may easily want to tag it a poem because of the figurative expressions on the lyric. And in a way, it is. You can count the stanzas, the feet and meter on the lyrics. His poetic lyrics are simple yet rich and set him aside from the noise-making artistes who shout empty words at listeners. And the steadfast accompaniment of the Roots Renaissance Band enhances the album.

As with the traditional king’s messenger bearing message and armed with his instrument for attracting attention, the album is more than a message delivered on an errand for a king. It sums up the different shades of understanding, the contemporary hopes, difficulties, and aspirations of the people, using rich Yorùbá folkloric and language to preach continental messages.

The 15-track album opens with ‘Àrà. The track is a call to dance and pays homage to his fans. ‘Outsider’, ‘Akáwọ́gbékùn’ and ‘One Good Soul’ ring out the pain of an alien in a foreign land and also exhort good people to be steadfast in their convictions. ‘Dreaming (On a Breezy Night)’ is laid in dialogic metaphor, in trance-like manner the Yorùbá water deities, Olókun and Yemoja, are invoked in the song for sustenance to the wearied hearted. ‘Ìrètí-ògo’ is almost a gospel. It prophetically awakens hope and enjoins the virtuous never to yield to doubt. ‘Yọ’wọ’ is a warning to the malevolent ones who bask in evil to desist from evil ways. The soft tune and vocal solemnity of the song is enough a warning. ‘Lights of Spain’ travels through the Sahara and Mediterranean with migrants that seek hope on the other shores. Like in Jùmọ̀kẹ́ Verissimo’s poem, “Sighs of the Mediterranean Sea” in Migrations edited by Wọlé Sóyínká, this track accounts the hardships and horrors that this type of migrants’ experience on their sojourn of fleeing and becoming.

Other songs on the album include ‘Ten Lashes’, which condemns the pseudo-activists who promote their selfish interests while pretending to be fighting the oppressed causes. ‘Abukéọshin’ and ‘Songs of the Trickster’ are free adaptions from the many Yorùbá folktales about the notorious trickster, Ìjàpá. The two tracks say much about the political tricksters of today, too. ‘Anyone, Everyone’ is a track that engulfs the soul in anguish. ‘Lékeléke’ has featured on one of Beautiful Nubia’s albums before, but the perfection he seeks has led to it featuring anew on this album. Anyone who has been to any of his concerts will know that the song is very dear to him. Partly spiritual, partly metaphorical, the sacred bird that lends its name to the song title flutters helplessly in the face of man’s wickedness. ‘Paean to Sorrow’ is a satire condemning wars and glorification of the so-called super powers. It reminds us of the place of ordinary folks who get entangled in such wars. The displaced refugees of Sudan and Syria readily comes to mind. ‘Àkọ́jáde’ completes the album with a reminder that none shall outlive the earth.

Soundbender is a message against the tyranny of the wicked and confronts many evils in the land, speaking the complaints of the oppressed. It has a relevant social analysis of the configuration of the world-society. It challenges and urges us to work out collective solutions to the inequities of the current configuration. It is an album that is local in thematic preoccupation, yet global. Beautiful Nubia’s use of deep Yorùbá words that are fast going out of usage and various Yorùbá dialects proves him to be a cultural revivalist.

The ẸniỌbańkẹ́ cult must be given credit for the album. The tri-musical-angle that is made up of Beautiful Nubia and his Roots Renaissance Band, deserve accolades for their consistency, for their masterly compositions and renditions, and of course, the ever-growing cult of fans around the world. The fans complete the triangle and should be appreciated for sustenance and receptivity to the positive messages of Beautiful Nubia’s music. It’s like what Brian Eno described as “scenius” when he said genius is individual while scenius is communal. The communality of his music endears him to his audience and fans because of the collective emphasis of the album. So, in a way, it can be safely said that ẸniỌbańkẹ́ is scenius.

However, the artiste’s Yorùbá words are without ‘akiset’, to use the English of Àlàbá, a character in Wo̩lé óyinká’s Alápatà Àpáta. The tonal marks that help to distinguish meanings are not used in the album’s liner notes. And it is not the first time Beautiful Nubia is guilty of this. His official website, where there are Yorùbá words, and his previous albums, which have Yorùbá titles, lack tonal marks. Readers who do not have a deep understanding of the Yorùbá words are likely to confuse or misunderstand the words. The marks are a feature of Yorùbá language. And to write without tonal marks is to disrespect the language. You won’t find Spanish, French or Dutch without their distinctive accent markers. It should be emphasised that Yorùbá is not inferior to these languages. In fact, Yorùbá is richer than some of these languages in clarity of expression.

Beautiful Nubia does not feature other artistes on his albums. This is deliberate and perhaps, needs re-evaluation. Although his music is somewhat personal, there is the need to feature, maybe, emerging artistes to encourage them into his musical genre and to contribute more to the music industry. Also collaborations across Africa with the likes of maybe Angelique Kidjo, Youssou N’Dour, or even Salif Keita is now necessary. Such collaborations would reach out to more of his francophone fans.

And, on a last note, one sincerely hopes that music videos of the songs on Soundbender will be made and will enjoy as much airplay as his other songs, which have been enjoying steady airplay in Ottawa, New York, (even China) and other cities of the world, on MTV and other top international music channels.



The Favourite Son of Africa is the pseudonym of Tope Salaudeen-Adegoke. He is an editor, literary critic and poet from Ibadan, Nigeria. A member of WriteHouse Collective, Tope assesses manuscripts for publication and is one of the organisers of Artmosphere, a leading monthly literary event in Ibadan. Also, he is the administrator of the Kofi Awoonor Memorial Library in Ibadan and is a book reviewer at Wawa Review of Books, Abuja, Nigeria. He enjoys travelling and cooking.

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Timeline: Circle Mall, Jákàndè

Photos taken during and after the construction of the new Circle Mall at Lekki-Jakande Roundabout. May, 2015 and January 2016.


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Save Our Heritage: Adunni Olorisha Exhibition!

IMG_2127 IMG_2130 IMG_2143 IMG_2144 IMG_2146 IMG_2147 IMG_2148 IMG_2149 IMG_2150 IMG_2151 IMG_2152 IMG_2155The Susanne Wenger Adùnní Olórìṣà Trust is currently exhibiting artworks at the Wheatbaker Hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos. They are photos, drawings, paintings, and other art works done by Òsogbo and Òsogbo-influenced artists and about the sacred Òsun Òsogbo Grove where Susanne Wenger lived for a number of decades, and died.

According to the accompanying literature, the campaign is intended to raise awareness for the sacred groves. “Funds from the proceeds of the exhibition will be used to restore the monumental sculptures and buildings in the grove which are in need of urgent repair.”

Artists whose work currently feature around the Wheatbaker currently (a few pictured) are Sàngódáre Àjàlá, Adébísí Àkànjí, Rabiu Abesu, Buraimoh Gbàdàmọ́sí, Kíkẹ́lọmọ & Ajíbíkẹ́ Ògúnyẹmí, Bísí Fábùnmi, Chief Jimoh Buraimoh, Muraina Oyèlámì, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Nike Okúndayé, Chief Tọlá Wẹ́wẹ̀, Polly Alákija, Wúrà-Natasha Ogunji, and Adolphus Opara.

You can get more information about the campaign at Àdùnní Olórìṣà Trust.

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At The Elevation Church on Sunday

IMG_1999 IMG_2001 IMG_2002 IMG_2003 IMG_2004IMG_2006 IMG_2007 IMG_2008IMG_2009IMG_1991 IMG_1982 IMG_1984IMG_1997IMG_2002IMG_1989IMG_2006The interest in (and response to) my last post about the demise of decorum was on my mind as I attended church on Sunday, for the second service, at the church’s new location in Lekki. What I realised, along with the fact that I’d painted Nigerian events with too much of a broad brush, is that Christian (and perhaps most religious) events, along with events organised by/for writers are usually better organised than other public events. Maybe the problem of decorum is actually a problem of organisation. The Aké Arts and Book Festival is certainly one of the better organised events I’ve attended in the country, and it continues to improve every year. It is run by young volunteers who put up a more competent performance than many of our public officials (and even private organisers) who earn way more and deliver less.

Now, the Elevation Church moved, this Sunday, to its permanent site along the Lekki-Epe Expressway, and held its first two services there to celebrate the occasion. These photos were taken there. The church structure (made in a tent-like form with steel and tarp) sits on a 17,000 square metre area of land purchased and developed over the last three to four years. Not only was the church programme prompt and well organised (as it has always been), the interior design of the new structure shows attention to detail and to the comfort of the worshippers. For someone with long legs and a phobia for sitting in cramped spaces, believe me when I say that the arrangement for coming in and going out were made with deliberate attention to comfort, security, and aesthetics.

What else can I say? It’s a place of worship, so perhaps we’re usually at our best behaviour in such places. But props should go to the hundreds of unpaid volunteers who spend their time and effort to make each Sunday service a breeze. May I also recommend that anyone interested in a family church with deep social consciousness and connectedness to the environment in the Lekki area, and a beautiful environment of worship and fellowship, should check out the Elevation Church. Take it from this recurring Christian agnostic who has found it a worthy venue for nourishing of the soul and the stimulating of conscience and purpose. Do I sound like a preacher already?

This Sunday service featured – among other things – a live performance by Nigeria’s top music producer Cobhams Asuquo who sang a theme song he’d composed for the church, a Christmas carol, and another about Angels All Around. Those who have ever listened to him or seen his work already understand the depth and breath of his talent. Witnessing him lead a congregation in a soulful worship performance is a bonus delight.

So, what am I trying to say anyway? Can’t remember. But do come to church next Sunday!

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On the Demise of Decorum

2015-12-07 08.37.49 I realised, on my way back from the coronation of the Ọọ̀ni of Ifẹ, last Sunday, that I’ve never attended a properly-planned public event in this country as an adult. Be it a wedding, a naming, or an engagement ceremony, or even an official governmental or artistic event, the evidence from my trip down memory lane has left plenty to be desired, particularly as regards planning and implementation. True a few have come very close to proper organisation, but they have been too far in-between to be the norm. Either we Nigerians are terrible event planners in general or we are just terrible audiences of otherwise well-planned events, both leading to undesirable consequences.

First, the invitation card to the coronation of the spiritual head of the Yorùbá people had shamefully incorrect diacritics on the names of the new king – an unforgivable faux pas tolerable only because of our erstwhile collective tolerance of that kind of cultural laxity and mediocrity. Heck, we are numb already to books and newspapers printing Yorùbá (or Igbo) names without appropriate tone-marks, even when the editor of such publication claims to be an educated Nigerian individual. In an alternate universe, whoever was in charge of this royal invitation would be fired, pilloried, and barred from any future participation in any cultural events relating to the king. But our “educated” newspaper and book editors still collect salaries while putting their stamp of authority on the idea that this kind of (cultural and linguistic) certitude counts for nothing. Shame on us.

2015-12-07 09.41.46 2015-12-07 09.50.09And secondly, an event slated to host royal dignitaries from around the world started almost as a free-for-all as royalty and “common” men jostled together in a crowd to make their way through a narrow gate into the hall. At one point, I spotted the king’s own father himself being pushed and shoved with the crowd, and having to prove himself to be who he is. It was the same situation for the mother of the princess and other numerous otherwise dignified guests who had to fight through what seemed like the eye of a needle, even while holding  a VVIP invitation card. At one point in the crowd, one spots the staff of office of the Olúbàdàn of Ibàdàn – an otherwise important instrument of office that should pave way for its bearer without questions. For almost an hour, the staff and its carrier remained nestled within the throng (pictured).

2015-12-07 12.49.53-3 2015-12-07 12.49.38 2015-12-07 12.49.53-1 2015-12-07 12.49.40By the time the Ọọ̀ni made his way into the hall, not only was his path blocked by indecorous photographers, well-wishers and other media practitioners wishing to take his photos, the whole hall seemed, at once, to have turned into a barbarous throng, with everyone standing on their seats with phones and devices at the ready to take photographs. Our modern interpretation of this phenomenon might excuse it as a sign of the king’s importance in our imagination, or our celebration of his ascendance -Fair point? – rather than a more unflattering suggestion: that it is a display of our lack of decorum at such events. One wrong footing and one of these amateur photographers would fall, deservedly, and land either on the king’s head or by his feet. And even without that, the walk from the entrance which should have taken less than a minute took over fifteen minutes: a newly crowned king pacing himself through an artificially-constructed hedge of human nuisance.

A while ago, on a flight back from the United States, I found myself in Paris, at the Charles De Gaulle airport, on the last leg of the trip. And for one moment, something that hadn’t occurred to me on any other part of the trip suddenly came to embarrassing prominence. The airline announcer had taken the microphone to announce that boarding would now commence to Lagos. But before the first few words had landed out of her mouth, a loud and cacophonous shuffle began, seemingly out of nowhere, involving only the Nigerians who a few seconds earlier were sitting quietly and minding their businesses. As if a shortage of airline seats had just been declared and an order placed that only the first at the gate would be flown to Lagos, my countrymen hustled and shoved themselves into what eventually became the queue. It has happened in other instances too, like two seconds after touching down, even before the seatbelt signs are turned off. My countrymen jump out of their seats and immediately proceed towards their luggage, as if they were going to disappear after just a few seconds of waiting.

Those who have cared about the matter have blamed much of this on our cultural conditioning. But I’ve been to Kenya and the situation is way different, from private comportment to general orderliness in public spaces, proving that it certainly isn’t an “African” conditioning. It’s a Nigerian issue, celebrated in other instances as our unbound boisterousness. In instances like this however, and in many others where acculturation should otherwise show itself as decorum, we have terribly failed, and we need to find our way back.

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