Tosin Martins is most famous for his classic love song, 2006’s Olo mi, a tune so pervasive, it has jumped leaps and bounds ahead of its performer on its way to becoming a Nigerian wedding staple. In one of those interesting twists of fate, Mr Martins, primarily a gospel singer, scored a (some would say, secular) love song as his greatest hit. But judging from his musical output, one can conclude that his heart is and has always been with the church.
From his work on earlier efforts, Happy day and Higher, Martins has always been partial to the gospel divide of the business. He continues that expression on his 3rd record titled I’m a M.E.S. The album’s title is a simple answer to that question of identity that has trailed Martins most of his career. For purposes of simplicity, journalists and fans have always put forward the question of definition. Just exactly what kind of artiste does he fancy himself? A gospel crooner, wedding singer, motivational preacher?
“Well why can’t I be all of them?” Martins seems to be saying on this record. “Why can’t I be more?” The M.E.S of the title stands for Minister. Entertainer. Statesman. And with this title, he shuts down perhaps once and for all those recurrent questions of identity. As if they really mattered.
But how those Martins fare on these noble intentions of his? Not surprisingly, he works best as a minister. Of the album’s 11 songs, at least 6 of them have to do with the acknowledgement of a higher being. The opening song Tim’ba is a pseudo medley of popular Nigerian gospel choruses taken from different parts of the country. Produced by Rotimi Akinfemwa, the cut and sew job somehow manages to meld into a fine finish. The same formula is applied on T.G.M, a 6 minute medley of thanksgiving songs powered by a pulsatile beat and throbbing drums.
Martins receives assistance from Brandon Camphor on the more contemporary anthem titled It’s so you. Here, Martins’ rich, sexy alto serenades the creator as if he were talking to a loved one. Afenitan and You are everything round out the praise and worship section competently.
If ever I’m a M.E.S has a highlight, it is on the Cobhams Asuquo revisit of Sir Ebenezer Obey’s classic Iba fun eledumare. Shortened as Iba here, the song is curiously a prayer for peace in a crisis riddled world even though Martins files it under the statesman category. Martins does unimpeachable work with the verses but it is Obey’s rich and distinctive, soulful voice aided by the twang of honest guitars that elevates the song and powers it to become one of the finest recordings you will hear this year. Indeed nothing else on the record comes close to the mastery that is achieved here. Other ventures in the patriotism business like Welcome to Lagos do not quite hit the mark.
Martins’ Achilles hill on this record shows when he tries to become an entertainer. He enlists Waje and Tiwa Savage to help with radio friendly love songs. In these days of Facebook and instant messaging, Letter days arrives as a relic of days gone by and does not create sufficient nostalgic spark to truly warm up to tweeting audiences. Otiya (featuring Vector) is incoherent and easily out of place on the record. Of these set of songs, it is only Damilorun that comes close to entertaining.
Even when I’m a M.E.S sets out to be adventurous, it cannot quite hide Martins true allegiances. The attempts at crossover are only half hearted and not expertly or subtly crafted. It is okay to fulfill personal and commercial desires but the synergy on the record proves that this brother is all about the ministering.
– Wilfred Okiche (@DrWill20)