Iyanya draws on his experience and his strengths as a vocalist to deliver a solid project that I find a cut above average…
By Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku
Iyanya is an undoubted icon of the Nigerian music industry. After a stint in Don Jazzy’s Mavin Records, Iyanya makes a triumphant return to the Made Men Media Group (MMMG) imprint and our collective consciousnesses with a new EP titled The 6th Wave.
Iyanya is no stranger to any lover of Afrobeats. He broke into the spotlight after winning the inaugural season of the Project Fame West Africa. Originally an R&B singer, he crossed over into Afropop and Afrobeats to capture the mainstream audience. It was a move that paid large dividends. His star was cemented through iconic singles like “Kukere,” “Ur Waist,” and “Sexy Mama.” While he continued releasing music quite consistently, he never quite seemed to attain those early heights again. Label scuffles led to a turbulent period for him although he saw a little resurgence when he joined the Mavin Records stable. Now that relations seem to be mended with the Made Men Media Group, this new EP is positioned to give him a sort of fresh start and begin a new wave.
The 6th Wave kicks off with the Shugavybz-produced “Zone.” The song finds Iyanya espousing the benefits of his companionship to his lover, singing “You know I got you in my zone. Why I go leave you alone, And no baga fit to touch you, In my zone.” He employs really sweet melodies atop a fittingly sensual instrumental that features simple dancehall-esque drums, a pulsing bassline and rich synths. However, the instrumental also features one glaring hiccup: a loud and persistent vocal sample that stands out like a sore thumb and overpowers the other sounds it should be blending in with. This one element hampered my enjoyment of the song and shows the power of each little choice producers make as they put a track together.
The track also contains a solid verse from new UK-based act, 5ive Rings. His verse adds a tougher dimension to the song while maintaining the emotion displayed throughout the rest of the song. Iyanya’s R&B rudiments shine through in the sweetness of his vocal delivery and sensual-leaning lyrics.
These strengths continue to shine on the next song, “My Lady.” Also produced by Shugavybz, this sensuous love song finds Iyanya full of admiration for his lover. “So when I see this fine baby, Be like say I lose my senses…And if you japa, You be my last card,” he sings in slow and sultry tones. Simplicity is one of the best things about this song. The production does not need to do too much. Strummed guitar chords, sporadic bass and slight drums are enough to create a romantic environment for Iyanya’s delivery to shine through. The lyrics and melodies he chooses are simple in a way that allow him to float through the song effortlessly. There is also an earnestness to the way he delivers the lyrics. He sings “Ikebe super, You be my raider, Scatter my focus,” in a way that anyone who has been enraptured by another person can relate to.
“Sweet Argentina” livens things up and takes us down to Ghana, featuring Kuami Eugene over a swinging Highlife beat. The signature Ghanaian cowbells are prominent amongst other percussions over archetypal highlife guitars. If I were to nit-pick, I would find some fault in how basic the lyrics of the song can be. “My sweety Lovina, Abena, I bring you flower from Argentina… sweety mami eh, mamimami eh, Argentina mami eh, Abenamami eh.” While I did roll my eyes a couple times, I cannot deny that what the song lacks in lyrical depth, it makes up for in feeling and danceability. When a song like this comes on at the reception of a wedding, few people on the dance floor will likely be complaining about the lyrics.
(Read also: Moliy Captures a Sour Relationship on “Honey Doom”)
“One Side” is up next and will keep you on the dance floor. At first listen, it might be a bit difficult to differentiate this song from the myriad Afrobeats songs on the radio currently. You get the typical triplet Afrobeat drums over funky basses and a rhythmic guitar line that sounds a bit plastic. Iyanya’s melodic choices are also fairly typical for a song like this. The added bonus is that his voice is much stronger than average so the melodies are well delivered and his vocals are crystal clear. Finally, the lyrics are mostly standard fare as well, with staples like “Oh baby jo gimme this your love…Your body must to kill a man,” and such lines. However, we do get some moments where Iyanya’s sense of humour come across, in witty lines such as “E better make I dey with you cos these olosho don dey cost…Control shift your pant girl,” and a few others. Basically, this song would be very at home in a current Afrobeat mix, and while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any area, it is still a solid and serviceable wheel.
The next song is the Niphkeys-produced “Scam” which is another sensual jam in the same vein as “My Lady.” Sweeping pads and sombre strings set the stage for Iyanya to wax poetic to a potential lover while promising not to take her love for granted. “I wanna be your certified lover, Before you sleep, I kiss, I love you, And when you wake oh, bonjour, No be joke, no be April fool, If you give me chop girl, I no go scam you.” I feel like songs like this could be the calling card of the new Iyanya. They allow him to fully display his R&B voice and melodic mastery in a way that still appeals to the mainstream Afropop audience (similar to an artist like CKay).
“Milla” is next, and features Yung Alpha, who also produced the song. I instantly fell I love with the instrumental he delivered. It has the softness one would expect from a slow song, with sparkly electric pianos, shimmering pads, and a striking vocal sample. However, the drums and 808s give it a bit of a harder edge. This harder edge fits the song thematically as the song weaves tales of gold-digging lovers. “Your girlfriend can leave you for twenty milla oh, Leave you for fifty milla, She fit leave you for hundred milla,” Yung Alpha warns on a surprisingly catchy chorus. The direction of this song also allows Iyanya show himself in a different light. His delivery here begins almost akin to rap, with a faster cadence and a stronger focus on lyricism than on melodies. Eventually the melodies show up and they are smooth, blending seamlessly with the unique instrumentals.
“Call” features the stellar Mavin Records songstress, Ayra Starr. This is my favourite song on the project. This song sees both artistes playing the parts of lovers communicating their way through a rough spell. The wonderful production from 1da Banton is a strong foundation. Beautiful chords, lively guitars, bouncy drums and sharp shakers create the sonic canvas on which these two talented vocalists paint their vivid pictures. Starr’s sharp high tone is a perfect counter to Iyanya’s silky tenor. The songwriting is vivid and relatable, clearly showing both perspectives. “Omo don dey gimme problems, Say I no dey pick call, I don dey form foreign,” Iyanya complains from the male viewpoint with catchy melodies and stunning harmonies. “Am I selfish if I say I want more? Is it too much to ask for your love?,” Ayra fires back in a totally believable manner, with emotion and concern in her distinctive voice. Every element of this song comes together to create a blend that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The EP is rounded off with “Like,” a star-studded Pop offering that was released as a single preceding the project’s release. This is a song that is sure to please mainstream audiences, featuring fan favourites Davido and Kizz Daniel firmly in their elements. Kizz Daniel, riding high off the success of his hit song “Buga,” delivers another masterclass in creating catchy hooks. The instrumental is cheerful and celebratory, with bright trumpets and a plucked synth that plays across your ears, switching from side to side. Davido’s verse is vintage Davido: energetic and joyful. While Iyanya takes the first verse, he lets his featured artistes fully express themselves on the song, and I think that works to its benefit. He lends his voice sporadically, harmonising with his guests and adding his spice to their sections. This song does not put a foot wrong and effortlessly puts a smile on your face.
The 6th Wave is a very fitting return to form for an undeniable icon. It seems Iyanya has rediscovered his place in the industry, and re-negotiates his strengths as an artiste. He relies heavily on his seasoned vocals and experience with melodies to carry his audience through the project. He also makes sure to put his versatility on display, giving us a spectrum of love songs. Lyricism was never really one of Iyanya’s calling cards (enough fun has been poked at his famous “From the bed to the bedroom” line) but he does display a degree of development and maturity in that area. Each featured act brought something different to the project in a manner that complemented what Iyanya himself delivered. One of my worries going in was that Iyanya might be slightly off the pace behind a lot of the newer Afrobeats acts, but he holds his own well, drawing on his experience to set himself apart with a project that I find a fair cut above average.
Lyricism – 1.3
Tracklisting – 1.2
Sound Engineering – 1.2
Vocalisation – 1.8
Listening Experience – 1.5
Rating – 7/10
Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media.