Label & Year: 2nite Entertainment, 2014
Like most pop acts, Nigerian highlife musician Flavour is interested in the opposite sex. Unlike them, Flavour makes you believe in his helplessness confronted with feminine beauty. Hear the plaintiveness when he says to the eponymous lady in ‘Sexy Rosey’: "Baby, you too fine o/you too sweet o/I will go the extra mile o/anything for you my baby." He is neither player nor seducer; he is victim - assailed by beauty's violence. He is both artist and man, painting lyrics over leers.
Later he takes a low-rent arithmetic approach to that fearsome symmetry: “Your waist 34/Your hips 44/You are 24.” Who said numbers are boring? The jaunty rhythm of the song is an album highlight. Flavour, steeped in Igbo folkloric tradition, knows his genre’s chief concerns are liquor-fuelled leisure and lust. With Thankful, he takes the dusk-drinking and laidback chats beyond the outdoor pubs of Enugu, city of his adolescence, to our speakers.
The album’s two skits take place in one of such pubs. A group of men converse in Igbo, their subject far removed from matters of national importance:
“‘It is like this girl has come.’
‘Amy, my Amy, have you come?’
‘Okay, I’m coming, I’m coming.’
‘Wait, please wait, and let me deal with this girl please.’
‘The girl has come…’
‘I hope she didn’t come alone?’
‘Calm down, she came with her friends…’”
On some songs you can hear murmurs and shouts. In effect Thankful is an aural reconstruction of the goings-on within Nigerian bars. Where between the music and loud discussions it is hard to tell what is welcome and what is intruding.
An essential difference between today’s highlife and that of yore is in the matter of objectification. The highlife singer, as embodied by Flavour, is an equal opportunity objectifier. The music discusses the female anatomy. In return the singer offers his pecs, deltoids and six-pack so distinct that they look installed. (Musicians today are aware of the potency of images in the way their older colleagues were not). On the cover of Thankful are airbrushed cheekbones of the man formerly known as Chinedu Okoli, the full lips of the singer in a vague pout serving as accompaniment to music mentioning over-developed backsides. The music, it can be argued, satisfies male fans and the image pacifies female ones. Both sexes are, of course, welcome to dance.
Not like this is exclusively Flavour’s concern. On ‘Nwayo Nwayo’, he chronicles the trips and motivations of the Igbo hustler. He may have escaped that life but he remembers enough to offer caution. “My brother take am easy, to move on in this life, you have to lead it gently,” an approximation of what can only be fully understood in the specific Igbo dialect. Unfortunately, the album’s immediacy peters out in the concluding half. But already it has offered supreme dance tune ‘Wake Up’ with Wande, and the excellent R&B infused number ‘Wiser’ featuring Phyno and MI.
This last locates Flavour in the 1990s, a period when Nigerian radio was in thrall of American rhythm. Masterkraft, the main producer of Thankful’s tracks, curries in tricks uncovered in working with Nigerian R&B maestro Banky W. He has updated highlife so it is accessible even for those still caught up in music Americana. This is Thankful’s true triumph: the mixing of highlife and R&B, neither overwhelming the other. For this, we can be thankful.