By Emmanuel Daraloye
She may not always make the headlines these days, but it’s hard to deny that Nigerian singer-songwriter Omawumi Megbele, professionally known as Omawumi, has had a colourful music career.
Two years after emerging first runner-up at West African Idol in 2007, she released her debut album Wonder Woman – produced by the late Dokta Frabz – in 2009. The album was panned by music critics for its “over-saturation”, but singles like “In The Music”, “Chocolata” (which featured rapper Naeto C) and “Serious Love Nwantinti” gained some traction.
By 2010, Omawumi had stamped her authority as one of Nigeria’s thriving female vocalists, appearing on the single “Thank God” (off the late Dagrin’s CEO album). It took another five years before she released her second full-length LP – Lasso Of Truth didn’t show up until 2015 – but she remained relevant with singles like 2011’s “If You Ask me”, 2012’s “Bottom Belle” (which featured Flavour and heavily sampled Herbert Udemba’s highlife classic “Bottom Belly”), and 2014’s “Warn Yourself” (a collaboration with Wizkid).
In 2017, she released the Jazz-themed album Timeless, which included collaborations with Angélique Kidjo and Salif Keita. Omawumi’s artistic evolution reached another epoch two years later with the release of In Her Feelings, a ten-track LP that involved no features and addressed topics like love, domestic abuse, and corruption.
On August 12, 2021, Omawumi released her fifth studio album, which she named Love Deep High Life. Unlike its predecessor from 2019, this LP, which boasts a running time of 30 minutes, features vocal input from artistes like Brymo, Ric Hassani, Waje, and Phyno.
The record gets off to a start with the percussion-heavy “Joy”, a track that focuses on the adulation of a significant other with lyrics like “forty days and forty nights I dey pray for you/only you in my heart, I no go put you for cruise/and if my heart needs some exercise, I’ll just look at you/’cause every time I see you my heart dey skip for you”.
The highlife-themed “Billionaire (Go Baby)” is a feel-good type of song, accompanied by an infectious horn and lush strings. On this track, Omawumi infuses the popular Nigerian phrase “do giveaway” and enthusiastically preaches the YOLO gospel as she croons “enjoyment no dey kill person/free me make I chop my life/anyhow I wan chop am, anyhow I want/ what use is the money if you no spend am/Sisi what use is the waist if it can’t bend down…”
The DJ Coublon-produced “My Darling” is an ode to a love interest, which features vocal contributions from Waje, and a rather curious interpolation of Fela’s “Water No Get Enemy”.
The live-and-let-live mantra is espoused in “My Life”, a collaboration with rapper Phyno whose rhythm is heavily marinated in dancehall. “BS” is a mid-tempo track that satirises the disillusionment that comes with living in the volatile mess that is Nigeria, and the percussions return in “Sugar Baby”, a song that explores lust and desire.
Brymo’s vocals light up the slow-paced “Milk and Honey”, which runs like a conversation between two lovers. Rich in melody, this duet is one of the album’s high points.
“Coast To Coast” is a tribute to new romance and abdominal butterflies. It’s warm without being cheesy, as Ric Hassani saunters in with heartfelt lyrics like “I want you close to me, overseas/go coast to coast with me, holding me, just the way it’s supposed to be…”
“Fefe”, a song that dwells on love and reciprocity, bears a rhythm that is vaguely similar to Mr. Eazi’s “Pour Me Water”. The record closes out with “Mr. Whiny”, a track that runs with hilarity, even as Omawumi menacingly sings about men who tell lies just to get into women’s pants.
Love Deep High Life continues the narrative that largely characterised In Her Feeling, albeit in a more pop-centric fashion. The album dwells on relatable themes, even though some of the songs overlap in a manner that almost suggests repetitiveness: “BS” and “My Life” are cut from the same cloth, as with “Sugar Baby” and “Milk and Honey”. The songwriting on some of the tracks is subpar but the pristine production covers up for the lapses.
Omawumi’s craftsmanship has never been in doubt, but on Love Deep High Life she sounds really self-assured. It’s been 14 years since West African Idol, and in a sphere that is particularly grueling for women, the 39-year-old has shown considerable grit. These days she makes art at her own pace, and while she hasn’t always cared too much for the charts, this new LP seeks to appeal to pop sensibilities. It doesn’t possess the unassailable artistry of Timeless, but it’s by no means bad music.