As a talent, Darey Art Alade is one of the best we’ve got.
Scion of a celebrated maestro, he has been a willing student of music, working as an On Air Personality in a radio station in Lagos back when OAPS were yet to become magazine cover stars and competing at African music’s highest levels at the debut edition of Project Fame. His rich baritone was meant for singing and there is hardly a song arrangement he cannot tackle.
As an artiste, it has been a slightly different kettle of fish.
His place as one of the country’s most celebrated stars is unimpeachable. He is the rare contemporary artiste to win equal levels of commercial and critical acclaim and his recent run as a content producer and business man with the Valentine’s Day Love Like a Movie series has ensured no pop culture connoisseur will ever wonder what differentiates him from his father.
For all of this success, it remains difficult to lock up Mr Alade into any musical genre beyond the broad contemporary pop strokes. While this ambiguity can be an asset, giving whoever wields it enough flexibility to swim and dodge, when it comes to matters like crafting an album, such busy body qualities can be a bit of a distraction.
Alade’s debut album, 2006’s From me 2 u suffered from such jack of all trades ambitions. He tried it all from pop to highlife, R&B and even western classic music. His career best work, UnDAREYted released in 2009 worked because for once, Darey attempted to rein in his ambitions and inclinations into a giant contemporary pop umbrella. By the time he put out the double disc, Double Dare in 2011, he was back to his old, untamed ways.
In terms of cohesion, Naked is more UnDAREYted than Double Darey. He goes full retro and embraces the sounds of days gone past. Perhaps much of the credit for this should go not to Darey, but producer Oscar Heman-Ackah. In this regard, he is assisted by frequent Darey collaborators, Cobhams Asuquo and Vtek. Experimenting with golden highlife melodies, mysterious lyrics, talking drums with a side of Juju, Darey crafts a record that is both fresh and tastes like old wine at the same time.
The church boy in him arises in the stomping broad choruses of I go make am, Champion and Pray for you (with the acclaimed Soweto Gospel Choir). A good portion of the disc is dedicated to such life affirming, motivational material. They sound nice but the really interesting stuff can be found on tracks like Asiko laiye and Orekelewa where Darey updates childhood influences with today’s radio friendly flair. On both songs, he is playful, sings confidently in Yoruba and pidgin and wins over even the most cynical of audiences with his earnestness and dedication to his material. It helps also that his music comes across as refreshing in an often bland landscape.
Delilah (Taxi driver) is a reimagining of the Bobby Benson classic, perhaps unnecessary but certain to attract the older crowd who may have found themselves edged out of pop music’s current trends. Love you die and Aya mi continue in the record’s tradition of old meets new, highlife meets pop grooves.
Darey pulls out the stops for the R&B scorcher, Love you die and retreats on Lie to you to the good old piano soaked power ballad Valhalla that he scaled so definitively on 2008’s No stars.
A Darey and Asa collaboration, especially one produced by Cobhams Asuquo who shares a storied history with both artistes may seem like the year’s brightest idea on paper but Inside of you, the reggae lite effort that is the product of this union is underwhelming. While competently produced and mastered, it is stymied by a fleeting Asa appearance that in turn, does little to elevate the record beyond its humble limitations.
Even when the radio hits aren’t outlined in their numbers, Naked remains one of the most put together records to be released this year. A fine return to form for Darey, it speaks to the growth and evolution of Darey- the man and the artiste.
It isn’t the stripped down confessional hinted by the title, but it is alive and burning with emotion. Sometimes that is enough.
– Wilfred Okiche (@DrWill20)