Four years is a long time.
On his long awaited debut, Timi Dakolo starts off with a short thanksgiving number rendered in his native language. There are some people who would agree with that choice given how frustrating it has been waiting for the man to remove himself from shadow of the woman he topped so many years ago. That woman, Omawumi, has since released an album and edged him on radio with her successful singles. Perhaps fans may welcome an entire album of thanksgiving.
The album starts properly with the previously released Let It Shine, which is one of four previously released songs on this collection of eleven tracks (the Intro makes it a dozen). Ordinarily that should submerge this album in the quicksand of familiarity. That the album rises above this is attributable to two standout components: Timi’s voice and Cobhams Asuquo’s production.
It may be easy to forget what beautiful a voice Timi possesses. And if time has managed to thaw memories of the man belting out those notes to win the maiden West African Idol, he is keen to remind you as it stars on each of the tracks and it alone is worthy of the price of the album. Mr. Asuquo is a costar here.
There is a danger in the over-reliance on producers like is the vogue in the industry presently. Still there are times when an artist gets the producer he deserves. On Beautiful Noise, the synergy between Mr Asuquo and Timi produces a contender for the album of the year.
Enough cannot be said of Mr Asuquo’s ability but there is something special here as his music finally meets its match in Timi’s vocals- the beauty of Timi’s voice meets and complements the beast that is Cobhams Asuquo’s production.
Given the power of both, something had to give during the recording so that in a year that has seen the producer increase the decibels (Darey’s Double Dare) and employ sophisticated structures (Bez’ Super Sun), he strips his music allowing the arresting vocals of Timi to shine through.
This does not mean this is a straightforward R&B album. Take the first unfamiliar track, The Woman I Love, which sees Timi coo about a woman that has turned his ‘mistakes into a plan’ on a reggae melody with an intermittent percussion and a semi-concealed guitar thump. It’s a song that should get attention at weddings. From this subtle high, the album delves into the time-worn territory of two previously released singles, I Love You and Heaven Please. Both songs might make the Greatest Hits collection of a lesser artist but they are average fare here.
The album doesn’t take off till midway when the duet Is It Over is reached where alongside the excellent Joan Ekpai, Timi produces a ballad of overwhelming merit that occupies Lemar’s territory- the opening line is reminiscent of the British artist’s Another Day. Though it is just two voices that can be heard, it is actually three artists that combine to make this song a potent heartbreak song because once again producer Asuquo is there channelling his presence, through the absence of musical over-arrangement thereby ceding the spotlight to two impeccable vocalists who reward his confidence by utilizing his quasi-absence in a manner most artists have refused or do not know to exploit a great producer’s presence. It is at this point, the listener may realize that he/she is witnessing what is most definitely the best vocal performance recorded this year. Though, you can count on the innumerable award shows to ignore this album for the more ‘pop’ records.
The album’s only true low moment- and this only because most of the songs are great- comes when the confidence that must have been overflowing at the time of recording ebbs, giving way to the insecurity borne party jam Raise the Roof, a song that feels out of place and should probably have been a footnote at best. The song is not awful but it is out of place here and it misses the mark. As said, it doesn’t belong here and more importantly, in a niche occupied by Timaya, Terry G, Wizkid etc, it is unlikely that the song would receive anything close to significant play at any party in the country. Ambiguously, it is the same reason that lifts it above regular fare- the sophistication, mainly- that would be responsible for its inevitable obscurity.
Sadly, its inclusion would ruin the complete enjoyment of the album by private listeners or closely huddled lovers for whom it was crafted for.
For fans of Timi Dakolo, the man not the artist, this debut might be considered a distraction from the upheavals that the man has faced since coming tops at that show nearly half a decade ago. This might be considered as good or bad. Good, because he needs a break and bad for it has long been acknowledged that turmoil can produce worthy art. Beautiful Noise is unmistakably an album preoccupied with romance and any great strife-inspired music has been totally dismissed. Perhaps, it isn’t as much a beautiful noise as it is a beautiful distraction?
Yet for all its romantic projections and professions, the best song on Beautiful Noise is unconcerned with love, not with a woman in any case. Weirdly, There’s A Cry can be considered a love song, a love song not for a woman but to the land of his birth- the Niger Delta.
This song is activism draped in love and yet is the most emotional song in contemporary music. Nigerian musicians do not make sad songs, so this song’s power derives from the vocal sincerity and that sad novelty so that in an industry littered with artistes dropping ludicrous platitudes in the name of patriotism, the song it most recalls is MI’s Wild Wild West which was the rapper’s ode to Jos.
Both songs have a cinematic feel to the music, touch same themes and most importantly paint realistic pictures offering no easy solutions- MI’s song ends with the narrator ready for war as he fears “it isn’t done yet” while Timi closes with a mother “who just lost another child”.
Cynicism brews in conscious Nigerian music and deservedly so. This means two geopolitical zones have music capturing Nigeria’s pervasive unrest; what are the odds the other four abandon the ubiquitous ‘party jams’, pathos-ridden inspirationals and outrightly terrible music to give conscious lyrics backed by astute production, if only briefly?
There’s A Cry starts cinematically and melts into a dirge:
“There’s a cry from a river
that has nowhere to flow
and the pride of the river
was lost so long ago
and I cry for the reason
that only heaven knows
where did they go wrong?
How can we go on?”
Relevant questions to which Timi avers hope is the only answer.
If while listening, you fall in love and by There’s A Cry a teardrop falls from your eyes, do not be embarrassed, it is the moment you have been waiting for from Nigerian music and it has been brought to you by Timi Dakolo.
It would be most wonderful if Beautiful Noise hasn’t arrived four years too late. But then, maybe excellence takes time?