The monthly Afropolitan Vibes concert returned for the first time in 2017 on the night of 17 February, following a January break.
For the first few minutes, it looked like the recession and Nigeria’s political woes had gotten to the usually ebullient Afropolitan crowd, a detail acknowledged by Ade Bantu, leader of the band. He coaxed movement out of an audience that seemed too lethargic to dance, making way for the night’s first guest.
Lindsey Abudei performed two songs that should have been longer, given how the night ended. Her voice teeters on the edge of flatness but never goes off-key. It is just enough to keep the ears engaged and draw attention to the words spoken. She opened with ‘Drift Away’ and ended with ‘Freedom and I’, both from And the Bass is Queen, her debut album. It might take a while, but soon there will be essays written about the wonders of the Nigerian musical voice with Abudei’s voice a key part of a long lineage of women with pipes.
Jaywon, the second artist of the night, is one of those artists who have the blessing—and sometimes curse—of being defined by one song that captured everyone’s imaginations early in their career. His ‘Odun Yi (This Year)' is a start-of-the-year staple, the way ‘Odun n lo Sopin’ is the end of the year song in Yorubaland, forever ready to be pulled out and played on repeat when hope is needed. He opened and closed his performance with this song, a move better appreciated when the night’s final act climbed on stage.
Jaywon’s voice, which rode the high notes of that ubiquitous song, isn’t what it once was. Whether this was due to the dryness of the night, or to the loss of a falsetto not properly managed is hard to tell. But what he did have, what Lindsey needs and should get soon, is that one song requiring only the sound of its first line to enchant a crowd.
Ice Prince, superstar and final act, was the low point of the night. He has all the elements of that magic that makes music everything an audience wants it to be. In ‘Oleku’, he has a song that will forever stay in the mind of Nigerians; and that song has a voice too, albeit Brymo’s, who he called repeatedly while performing. Ice Prince has many songs as this: songs catchy enough that once they come on, every criticism of his act fades away. He knows this too, and perhaps that’s the problem. He clearly doesn’t respect the crowd, his fans, enough to give his best, even while he repeatedly thanks them for being there to listen to him.
It’s easy to take brilliance for granted, to listen to the bass line of a song and not find it remarkable because it blends into the background, dictating the rhythm and flow perfectly. This is the story of the Bantu band. They are the constant factor in the beauty of Afropolitan Vibes, able to match the style of various performers, from neo-soul belters to fuji crooners.
Their dexterity was on display during the first show of 2017 as they bent their sound to accommodate Jaywon’s struggling voice, rose to match Abudei’s crescendos, and adapted to Ice Prince’s “freestyle” and interruptions. By the time the band moved from ‘Lagos Jump’ to ‘Lagos Barbie’, from ‘Uptown Funk’ to ‘Oops Upside Your Head’, they didn’t need to encourage the crowd to dance anymore. They moved and jumped and dispersed at the close of the show into the dry Lagos night with smiles pasted on their wet faces. The Bantu band does this all the time, like a skilled magician casting a spell, knowing no matter the conditions of the night, the result is sure.
The February edition of the Afropolitan Vibes magazine, featuring profiles of the guest artists, is online.