I shit you not: Yabasi, one of the best Nigerian music albums of the year, was from a comedian. Not many know this, but Basket Mouth, before the nights of a thousand laughs was a rising rapper who trailed late evenings, searching a spot for himself within the industry.
Over fifteen years later Bright Okpocha is one of the biggest acts of the new movie scene (director of My Flatmates), as well as being the greatest comedian among his contemporaries, combining critical acclaim and commercial nous. These experiences are in full display as Yabasi flits from being a work of film scoring to a creative strategy to pique anticipation of Papa Benji, Basket Mouth’s forthcoming TV series. All in all, a theatrical experience is the pull of Yabasi and it’s impossibly difficult not to love the levity of its themes.
In 2020, the Nigerian music space has shifted and allowed for a lot of changes, especially in regards to strategy and musicianship. The foreign money coming in dictates the need to cater to international audiences who are inarguably the bigger buyers — there’s been a need to refocus the artist’s gaze and this has shifted the scope of Nigerian music in recent times. You’re certain to get an international act on any project from an artist with the clout, and with the production, consideration is given to how well it could crossover, how it could shed some Nigerian texture. The Basket Mouth-curated Yabasi is no respecter of these philosophies: Primarily for a Nigerian audience of African Magic viewers, and by artists firmly placed on the roots of their respective cultures (mostly Igbocentric) and produced entirely off the fingers of Dukktor Sett, a Nigerian producer.
Yabasi opens to Duncan Mighty on his iconic stuff. “Pepper” otherwise features a weak Ice Prince verse but the atmosphere it sets follows through to the last song. “When life give you pepper, brother make pepper soup,” is the charged line at the song, an advice which, even if funny, retains its simple wisdom, that yes, you can’t kill yourself. And indeed, Oxlade and Show Dem Camp turn up for “Myself,” a wildly exciting record which sees the AWAY crooner serenade with his falsetto while the Palmwine music purveyors drop verses relating to their simple requests from life. Later, on “Hustle,” the flame will be reignited, even if on a slower paced beat. The infectious chorus sees Benjamin (of The Cavemen.) and Bez swear that “hustle no be beans o.”
Yabasi, where Highlife and Theater meet, takes originality from its storytelling, a shared trait of both art forms. “Life,” “One Bo” and “Papa Benji” all evoke imagery, the latter two fit for a scene from a beer parlor. As identical with such places, social commentary finds way into discussions but the lightness of these excursions recall again that line: I can’t kill myself. And if there’s anything a beer parlor provides it is philosophical one-liners. On Yabasi, they’re everywhere, mostly considered on choruses and some of my favorites are on “World People” and “Life.” They’re perhaps the two best songs on the tape, seamlessly flowing into each other. Where Flash turns deaf ears to world people who’ll say bad things irrespective of whatever one does, Chiké turns the simple words of ‘life’ and ‘love’ on its head, singing “if you give me love, you dun give me life.” Such profundity.
The production by Dukktor Sett should not be slept on too. While majority of the artists have incorporated such sonics in their past, there’s a marked difference in Sett’s beats, how much space and comfort they afford each act, never growing too wildly from experimentation. But mistake this for a dearth of craftsmanship at your own peril: the beats on Yabasi sing long after the artist is done — you always want to revisit it so quickly. You always want to be transported to that ethereal further and that sheer enjoyability.
To many of us, the year has been unbearable. Pain always seems near and breathing has been a task. Highlife music has historically been set to such times, easing the aftermath of the Nigerian pogrom perpetrated against Biafrans from 1967 to 1970, and reminding us of the beauty of life as it is, money or no money. Yabasi then arrives just at the perfect time, away from the project rush of the past two months and in place not to just soundtrack a movie, but could feature as a dominant project back in the South East during the December festivities. (It’s no mistake the Ceeza Milly standout is titled “December.”)
Man, Basket Mouth really won with this project. His ear for the popular lingo of the time, the eye for the artists he selected and his influence as a creative strategist pulls Yabasi into the better listens of the year. It might not provoke a thousand think pieces or inspire fiery conversations on your TL, but it’s music that will move you and make you feel some warmth in this cold, cold world. Sometimes that’s all we ever need.
WRITTEN BY: Emmanuel Esomnofu
INSTAGRAM AND TWITTER- @EEsomnofu
For Urban Central
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