For alternative music god, Beautiful Nubia, the concept of the Soundbender must mean incorporating elements of every genre that has influenced him and sequencing them into a strange, eclectic mash that throbs with all the heat and power of an extended Pentecostal church deliverance session.
Soundbender, the 11th album by Beautiful Nubia and his Roots Renaissance Band released in 2015 might just as well have been released today. Wildly alive and pulsating with familiar ideas, striking storytelling and pure musicianship, the root of Soundbender lies in traditional folk and sounds but it grows and spreads, yielding branches of reggae, soul, jazz, even apala and bata. All of this of course, makes for a welcoming, unconventional sound that is amenable to be bent in various interesting directions.
True to Beautiful Nubia’s roots, a healthy portion of Soundbender is delivered in his Yoruba dialect, but unlike more mainstream artistes like Asa and Olamide who pepper their lyrics with easily discernible, generic Yoruba, his burrows deeper. He remixes folktales and folksongs that have their origins in rural, maybe pre- colonial era and situates them in the present, ensuring that in this transfer process, his music remains as timeless as the gems he borrows from. Beautiful Nubia does this successfully because the music transcends language and can be enjoyed thoroughly, irrespective of tribe, language or race.
15 cuts deep, the industry of Soundbender begins with the live instrumentation that preludes Ara. Beautiful Nubia’s rich, spoken-sung vocals observes the wonders of music for a spell before giving room for his band to compliment him with neither side making any moves to outshine the other. Beautiful Nubia sings lazily and poetically about the tragedy of a life lived on the fringes on Outsider while on Akawogbekun, a restive, idyllic image of the lazy countryside is conjured up, complete with violin strings and a call to be at peace with both humanity and nature.
But Beautiful Nubia, born ‘Segun Akinlolu isn’t so glued to the past that he is immune to present realities. Lights of Spain is a heart breaking, almost perfectly rendered account of the immigration crisis rocking the world. Beautiful Nubia asks of the heavens above after braving various traumatic conditions to make it to the West, Send me back to the world again/but next time let me be of lighter shade. This simple line captures totally the tragedy and curse of being born a black person in today’s world. Elsewhere on Dreaming (On a breezy night), he wonders of our lighter skinned brethren in positions of influence, Of what value is an African life to them? Are we just a headline of horror and shame?, before clinging to some shard of dignity a breath later; To feel my pain you have to walk in my shoes/ You have to wear my shoes and babble in my tongue.
Lekeleke, a favourite familiar to devotees of Beautiful Nubia and Eniobanke is reworked here and tasked with a throbbing urgency that powers the recording to its sustained finish. Ireti–Ogo is likely to take you back to church as its swaying, calming ambience, coupled with vocal assurances of better days ahead will awake the goodness and piety within. The elegant, calming Yo’wo even advocates the end of evil and appeals directly to disengage from acts that are less than honourable.
The timeless parable of the tortoise and the snail is revisited on Abukeoshin and drives home the cautionary tale leanings of the song. Same with Songs of the trickster, a highlight that boasts 2 sterling sax solos capable of melting ice caps.
The ambience of Soundbender is dark and dangerously moody, with titles like Paean to sorrow and Ten Lashes, musical pieces of self-flagellation that also manage to offer hope when it seems all is lost featuring prominently. Afterall in Nubia’s words, Even one good soul is a blessing to this life.
But even at its most troubling Soundbender still manages to elevate with its spurts of genius that dot the broad landscape of a thoughtful, practised craftsmanship. It is a record that only an inspired, practiced veteran can make and Beautiful Nubia has certainly earned his stripes.
–– Wilfred Okiche (@DrWill20)