Tuface Idibia, a name synonymous with contemporary Afro pop is as credible a name as you can mention in the African entertainment industry. A pioneer of popular music in Nigeria, he has been around and at the top for more than a decade. Poor Tuface (he’s had more than a fair share of celebrity), part and parcel of the business, the guy has been a ball of conflicts and contradictions. He’s someone as driven by passion as he was plagued by youthful exuberance — in other words, a wholly human pop star. The past year, however, was particularly remarkable for the singer, his record label Hypertek Digital was signed to 960Music Group, he got married to his long time love and started a family.
How Tuface Idibia must have sweated and worked tirelessly following his rise to stardom after he dropped his solo debut single “African Queen” from the Face 2 Face album in 2004: As an album it was a classic, and it was graced by singles so monumental they made him one of the decade’s most celebrated Afro pop icons. According to the laws of momentum, which govern pop music, any sequel could only be either be a pale reflection or a hubristic monstrosity. With the next four he unrepentantly chooses the latter.
Tuface’s discography contains innumerable references and allusions to Fela Kuti. His first major hit “African Queen” was an international success. For many his first memorable lines will always be “You are my African Queen”, giving Nigerian contemporary pop music its first showcasing on the world scene. It was used as a soundtrack on the 2006 stand-out Black American satirical comedy film “Phat Girlz”, where two plus-sized ladies meet the men of their dreams in the most unexpected of ways. In retrospect the movie was not the best publicity for the song.
To educate the public and fans in advance of this album, Tuface told NdaniTV on the Juice interview with Toolz, “I want to open doors” and went on further to say expect a lot of surprises, away from the norm. And this correlates in everyway with the album title “The Ascension”. The album has a very subtle underlying tone of a crossover performance from Tuface. However in this attempt he still very delicately balances the experience. It wasn’t just about making an international album. It had to do with very gentle amalgamation of Afro pop style with R&B, Highlife, Soca, Sokous, Electronic and even Hip-Hop/Rap sounds that gave the project a desirable ambiance satisfying both the indigenous and international audience. It accommodates them not just by giving them familiar sounds but he gave a basis to appreciate the body of work in its entirety with traces back to the heritage of the Afro pop sound.
On your marks, Get Set, “GO”!!!! That’s how we take off on this journey. The first logical step sets the giddy energetic theme of the record. Featuring Soca Legend Machel Montano from Trinidad. It is rightly followed up by the up tempo electro house “#Aproko” produced by super talented producer LeriQ of Aristokrat Records, who has also hinted 2face as one of the artists on his own upcoming album dropping this summer. The track takes on the intrinsic growing societal pressures stemming from social media activities, especially twitter.
Getting to the middle of the album is a reflection of the past in the not-so-distant 2004 of both a naïve Tuface and the international music industry. These nostalgic few minutes are the concise introduction of Afro pop fusing with international (American) sounds.
That vacuum engine sound on “Let Somebody Love You” fuzzily thumping the speakers over a variation of Usher’s 2004 monster hit “Confession”, was arguably the one clear thumb down. Bridget Kelly’s and Tuface slightly lack some cohesion and their verses rather politely stands next to other; the synergy does not really raise the emotions of the song beyond good.
LeriQ shakes your snooze off with “Confessions”, the flutes and martial drums reminiscent of those secondary school band songs. Rocksteady shows up the second time and his evergreen smooth Raskimono-Fashek style marks yet another perfect fit and Dammy Krane also makes an appearance but not really getting into this one.
The expansive, all-encompassing nature of the album is borne out in its staggering guest list which includes mentor Sir Victor Uwaifo, Tony Oneweek, International inclusions like Bridget Kelly (of Roc Nation), Fally Pupa, Shurwayne and Kim Almarcha, along with new charges like Vector, Dammy Krane, Rocksteady and Iceberg Slim (the rapper more famous for his mention on M.I’s “Beef” track, but comes to fore here and contributes the best guest verse of his life).
Sokous meets Highlife on “Lesse Passe” and Tuface employs dexterous legendary guitarist Sir Victor ‘Guitar Boy’ Uwaifo to hit the home run. And what sonically Afrobeat journey would be complete without a hint of the Late Great Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Tuface is very aware of this as he samples “Army Arrangement” on “Jeje” fused with very heavy kicks. And his immense command of Nigeria’s true official language ‘Pidgin’ English is the secret recipe he uses to achieve magnificent delivery of his lines and hooks.
Musically, the new album largely strays from where Away & Beyond left off. Now with a maximalist Afro pop proclivity, with flashes of R&Bheart-food composition and Afrobeat, Highlife and Makosa-Sokousinstrumentation weaved in seamlessly. The composition of the album intricately shows the past of Afro pop, the present and near future. A definite blueprint or dress rehearsal for how Nigerian and African music should be packaged in its ambitious move to make it across into the International music industry.