Have you ever found yourself wondering why an artiste get so much praise yet, you seem lost on what exactly is their magic when you check out their music or works? You are mostly left asking what all the profuse praise is about? Like what makes that particular artist ‘special’? Often times, it takes a while- a couple of projects before you finally discover that ‘magical thing’ about them.
That’s clearly how I felt hearing the many accolades accorded Odunsi (The Engine) after he released his six track EP, TOOLS (Time of Our Lives) in 2016. I was at the listening party held at Tea Baa, Osu that night. I took time to listen to the project in my quest to find that ‘Odunsi magic’ days and weeks after the release. His productions sounded incredible; his woozy, calm voice enriched songs. But, his song writing abilities were not overwhelming.
“rare.“, Odunsi’s full length debut album offers an peak into his talent trough. It leaves you appreciating his bravery, his experimental mind-set and a projection into the creative direction of the new ‘alte’ artists in Nigeria. Heralded as the ‘face’ of the ‘alte’ scene, Odunsi Bowo had previously worked with fellow artists like Nonso Amadi on a joint EP titled “War” in 2017, and AYLO on ”Situatioship”.
This year, hip hop heavyweight, M.I. Abaga ‘blamed’ Odunsi for delaying the release of his album, ‘Rendevous’. Odunsi had apparently delayed on submitting his vocals for a song. His playing turf isn’t restricted to only Nigeria. Odunsi (The Engine) was very instrumental in the making of ‘‘UHNI”, the debut project by two DJs – Eff The DJ and DJ K3V– who happen to be friends with him.
On “rare.“, Odunsi takes the listener on a sonic pilgrimage, while capturing the astounding and colourful nightlife of Lagos, courtesy the concise spoken word performances on the album. Love and life are among the dominant themes on the album.
“rare”, with its choral and spoken word offerings opens the album. ‘’Told you I’m ready, it’s my time and nobody can tell me nothing’’, delivered by the choir is a bold statement of intent by Odunsi. This ‘preamble’ is, partly, the building block of the album. Its sonic enchantments are presented in full on “falling”; a confessional love song with textured 70s disco feel. Odunsi cleverly interpolates P-Square’s “Ifunaya” on its chorus for good reason.
The funk, disco, pop-synth influences glow on records like Dancefloor, Wanted You; Soulful feel surround the likes of Outcast, Take A Break, Angel; and RnB elements flourish on Take Me There, Express, Green Light, Hectic. Think Daniel Caesar meet SZA on a track: that’s what the under 2 minutes ’Take Me There’ featuring Hamzaa sounds like. ‘Outcast’ is a reflection over his many setbacks: ‘remember being kicked out of high school/ Up to no good/ Never righteous) and how he broke out of the ‘jungle’: ‘Now I’m chilling with my gees/ And I’m feeling myself alone’; he sings with pride.
Odunsi (The Engine) has, on his full debut, made an album that Odunsi had waiting all this years to make.
Despite the various music styles mentioned, Odunsi doesn’t ignore the new afropop craze that his native, Nigeria, has become synonymous with. “Divine” features Davido, and together, make a record purposely for the mainstream music consumers. Odunsi calls on Runtown for “Star Sign”, a certified bop, thanks to its engrossing melody and Runtown’s charming delivery (‘I’m in love with girls who like to party/ Drink Bacardi straight/ Talking about star signs). You can be forgiven to think this record was made for Runtown. On ‘Alte Cruise’, Odunsi teams up with Santi and Zamir for another dose of afropop. “Express” carries an RnB- hip hop feel thanks to the output of Santi and South African rapper, Nasty C.
What makes this album a rare (pun intended) offering is the diverse musical influences that runs through the 14 tracks. Odunsi (The Engine) appears to be re-awakening the kind of music that once dominated the pop scene of the 70s and 80s – and which our parents danced to, and also filled the childhood of many 80s babies. This is Odunsi hacking back to the kind of music he loves; a very rare thing to do. It makes sense, considering the many positive reviews that greeted Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love” album- which leaned into psychedelic funk of the 80s- as well as Bruno Mars’ funk-RnB mashup “25 Karat Magic” album.
Aside the appealing production on display, the sequencing of songs and the seamless transition from one song to another cannot be glossed over. Sometimes, you barely notice it. Deliberately keeping the songs between 1:45 mins and 3: 12 mins- is reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s “Endless”. In fact, I’d go on a limp to say “rare.” shares certain traits with “Endless”; soundscape- wise.
Sticking to his circle of friends and collaborators like Santi, Tay Iwar, Hamzaa, Duendita, as well as drawing on Amaarae, Silos, 234jaydaa- artistes who share the same musical palate as himself- attest to why Odunsi is regarded, and rightly so, the face of Nigeria’s “alte” scene- The Engine- is undisputable cranking. What “rare.” lacks is a cohesive storyline to drive the album. Also, the laid back tone of the album might lead to some labelling it as ‘a boring listen’.
These notwithstanding, “rare.” evokes the personality of Odunsi. “rare.” defines the resoluteness of an artist to push a genre of music that’s rarely popular in this part of the world. “rare.” is to inspire others to believe in themselves and pursue whatever genre of music they wish to.
After enjoying the 14 tracks, one can conclusively say: Odunsi (The Engine) has, on his full debut, made an album that Odunsi had waiting all this years to make.