Artist: Banky W
Song: High Notes
Label & Year: EME, 2015
‘You’re so hot. Baby you're blazing and I like playing with fire.’ ‘I won’t make your body talk—I’ll make it sing like … [a] choir.’
With those lines Banky W announces his return on ‘High Notes,’ his first single in 2015, taken from a forthcoming album. Away from West Africa, the sex-pun king is R. Kelly, he of the ‘key in ignition’ fame. Over here, it is Banky territory. His more memorable songs have been unabashed sexual jams. ‘Jasi’, ‘Low Key’ and ‘Good Good Loving’ are some of the recent examples.
The memorable exceptions are instructive as well. ‘Jaiye Ori Mi’ (2014) and ‘Mercy’ (2013) have religious inflections. Besides their clear gospo-inspirational bent, those songs feature churches in their videos. For Mr W, making love and churchgoing are divine experiences. At the very least he takes both activities seriously.
This easy mingling of the divine and the debauched draws Banky W deeper into Kelly’s orbit. Composer of ‘I Believe I can Fly’, performed in churches the world over and singer of such carnal ditties as ‘I like the Crotch on You’, R. Kelly carried a crucifix in one pocket and a condom in another. And apparently, the young Bankole Wellington was watching, biding his time. Fortunately, like his US counterpart, he showed up prepared, blessed with a gift for melody.
He retains that gift and it makes easy listening even when the sacred and the sinful collide, as they do in this line from ‘High Notes’: She said all men are dogs. I said I’m just a different pedigree. Then she just went and got down on her knees and started blessing me.
The sexual nature of his lyrics may surprise a few. But Banky’s keen followers know this has always been a part of the man’s work. Almost a decade ago, on ‘Ebute Metta’, his remix of Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ and the very first single he released in Nigeria, he had this phallocentric line: ‘And yes I'm Nigerian—damn right I am packing…’ It’s a linear trip from there to ‘High Note’ ’s ‘it’s like the blood running through my veins…’ No prize for guessing what vessel exactly those words refer to.
There is, however, only so much of these formulations a singer, even one as talented as Banky, can produce before it is clear he needs a better thesaurus. ‘High Notes’ ’s ‘I am able, willing and ready’ is merely a revision of ‘I’m capable, and durable and lovable’ from 2008’s ‘Capable (remix)’.
That song gave him his Mr Capable nickname. And Banky has proven capable of wringing novelty from his usual themes. The words ‘High Notes’ showed up on the sedate seductive ‘Low Key’ (2013) as, ‘they hit the high notes, I hit the right notes’.
Also: ‘High Notes’ has ‘…these other girls—so they’re just jealous and they’re petty.’ But Banky said it better on ‘Low Key’: ‘Jealous chicks are playing games—they just angry birds.’ These repetitions may take you out of the song but the man’s vocal competence reels you back in. In time he may need to fix it but at the moment the trick is unbroken.
Listening to Banky W sing these lusty numbers back to back makes the man appear to be Nigeria’s apostle of unfettered lust, a disciple receiving directions from Eros. While that may be true, his lust is partly powered by narcissism. With the many manhood mentions, Banky’s music hardly provides a picture of a man beholding a woman but a man beholding his member, eternally fascinated by his own instrument. In any case, Nigerian music is littered with pop-pervs. And on ‘High Notes’, Banky W shows he is their premier, the most melodious, the most sophisticated.
As the song itself nears its end, Banky speeds through a rap. And when it arrives, the climax is an aural bang carrying these words: ‘I can make you a star: are you ready to blow?’
Sure, that, too, is a pun (and is reminiscent of 'Bring your body, baby, I could bring you fame' from 'Wicked Games' (2011) by US singer The Weeknd.) Yet beyond those words, there’s something more. Cobhams Asuquo, who produced the song and is mainly responsible for bringing gospel and classical patterns into contemporary pop music in Nigeria, does something exquisite with the chorus and beat. Employing chimes and strings, the sound mimics the lyrics: it is headed for a climax. Much of the ingenuity here recalls that other fruit of the Banky W-Cobhams collaboration, the excellent ‘Strong Thing’ (2009). About a half-decade later, fans will be grateful to learn the chemistry between producer and singer abides. These two work well.
The song works just as well. And in those concluding seconds, where Banky zips through his lines and the beat crescendoes in your ears, the song reveals its own workings: ‘High Notes’ is baby-making music for his listeners; Banky, though, is in a hurry to leave. This is work for him after all and pleasure comes after, outside of the recording booth. Singing sex-jams may be easy-peasy at this stage of Banky's career. But it is still only foreplay.
Watch the lyric video for 'High Notes' below.