Beyond the drippy mixing and mastering […] Sunsets in Lagos remains a brilliant move by Bella Alubo….
By Emmanuel Daraloye
Bella Alubo, the quiet, one-time Tinny Entertainment record First Lady, is a singer-songwriter who dabbles into Reggae, Afrobeats, Hip-hop, R&B and more. She spins all these around on her new swarming compilation body of work, Sunsets in Lagos, a copious tribute to the Nigerian city that has been her abode since she relocated from Jos close to a decade ago.
Before her attempts at music, Alubo’s first artistic rodeo was poetry which is evidenced in her lyrics, composition and sonic flow. In the course of her coming of age in Jos, Plateau State, Bella engaged in scribbling rhymes, foraying into philosophy, and developing a definitive stance in her worldview. Interestingly enough, these many parts to her are represented resplendently in this body of work; such that when the melody lacks, other attributes such as her witty pen and catch phrases fill in for those gaps.
The much dreamed signing to Tinny Entertainment came with numerous drawbacks for the artiste which ended with social media callouts, and later, an exit from the label. Unfazed by the scenario, Bella Alubo’s new project is an attempt to further put the bad time behind her.
For once, she finally has all her previously released singles in one pack. It is a beautiful attempt at cementing history. These songs are time capsules. They mark Bella’s developmental stages as an artiste, chronicling every milestone.
No one needs to “Ask Bolaji” about Bella Alubo; those days are gone. For an artiste who has crooned on the single, “G.O.A.T,” alongside the revered Notorious BIG and TY Dollar $ing, Alubo has gained some notoriety. “Ask Bolaji” in which Alubo co-opts BOJ of the DRB Lasgidi fame, reeks of self importance. Thankfully, BOJ delivers masterfully.
“Don’t Trust Germinis” explores the aftermath of a romantic relationship. The bubbly track sees Alubo reminiscing about the past. The pain is flitting. One time, she blames the guy for the abrupt end of the romantic relationship. Next, she absolves him and relishes the time spent with him. Bella Alubo’s lofty vocal inflections are commendable if not intimidating.
The Blaisebeatz-powered “Fire” shimmers with drumline, synth and base with Alubo restating her desire to party. At some point on this LP, Bella drifts into singing about the good things of life. On “Tropical Paradise,” Bella Alubo exploits Techno music with the lyrics revolving around psychedelic amidst sparse lyrics. Bella Alubo sees no trouble on the Lady Donli-assisted “Unavailable.” It is a punchy, skittering track that reinforces what she sings about on “Tropical Paradise.”
The bright, bouncy, “Summer’s Love” is a lofty attempt at crafting a potential jam. With input from “Ghana Bounce” crooner, Ajebutter 22, and Mavin record-signed Ladipoe, the brilliant cadence adds a fresh twist to the song. Ladipoe’s sleek 16 bars serve as a superb song closer. The chemistry between these artistes is impeccable.
Alubo’s soft coos permeate “Aiya.” It is a courageous, on-the-spot take on love, with lines like “Don’t want your number, want your name, don’t want your money, want your time,” showing a soul who knows what it wants. Alubo’s level of assertiveness is commendable.
“Honey” embodies South Africa’s Qgom genre with Hausa inflections, in which revered South Africa singer, Sho Madjozi, delivers an infectious verse.
It is instructive to note that long before Amapiano, there was Qgom which was explored by Reminisce and Patoranking. Bella Alubo paying homage to this distinct sound is laudable, as she adds a touch of Hausa native rhythmic flow, making it even more exquisite, especially in a sensual way.
Isiewu is an Igbo dish made with goat head. In this context, as used by Bella Alubo and Dice Ailes on “Isiewu,” isiewu refers to sex. This song pays coy homage to sex with both artistes exploiting different slangs for their articulation of it. “4 A.M” harks into the edgy state of Lagos City. A tribute to the city’s excessive business, Fresh L’s verse is macabre and persnickety in the same breath.
Afrobeat collides with Afrobeats on “Animals” with Alubo effortlessly flowing on the track. The complex polyrhythmic instrumental becomes the pedestal for Alubo to flaunt her vocals. The bright intermittent saxophone elicits a Fela Kuti’s Afrika Shrine aura.
The feminine spirit gets shored up as Efya and Bella Alubo meet on “Chale Wote.” It ranks as an epistle to a supposed boyfriend on what they want: “take us to festivals rather than a club,” they sing. Alubo’s dreary coos leave more to desire, and it gets boring as it goes on.
“Follow Me,” and “Agbani Remix” end the project. The former is a loner anthem. Alubo seems to mirror a baddie who lives on Instagram likes and comments. On the latter which features singer, Zlatan Ibile, they both play on the name, “Agbani,” giving a tribute to the former Miss World, Agbani Darego. Produced by TUC (Show Dem Camp’s producer), “Agbani” is resplendent with R&B and Afrobeats elements, a melting point between love and club.
Sunsets in Lagos is a compilation album with numerous old songs. It’s a gift to the day one fans of Bella Alubo, and for the new fans, they finally have a project that explicitly shows them the trajectory of their favourite artiste.
Beyond the drippy mixing and mastering which Bella Alubo ought to have reworked in a bid to add more freshness to the compilation, Sunsets in Lagos remains a brilliant move by Bella Alubo.
Her independence or lack of label support has never waned her love for music, and if there was any doubt about this, a walk through her staggering discography helps. While the fans look forward to her next steps in sonic and career progression, Sunsets in Lagos sounds like a fine thirst quencher.
Lyricism – 2
Tracklisting – 1
Sound Engineering – 1
Vocalisation – 1
Listening Experience – 2
This album review was updated on Monday January 30.
Emmanuel Daraloye is Africa’s Most Prolific Freelance Music Critic. He has over 500 album reviews in his archive.