Enigma is an immensely average EP. While none of the songs is completely bad, a lot of it is run-of-the-mill…
By Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku
Wendy Shay is a well-recognised name in the Ghanaian music industry. In a short time, she has garnered a number of accolades, including various awards, and a listing as one of Ghana’s 30 Most Influential Women in Music by the 3Music Award’s Women’s Brunch. The recently enstooled Queen Ewurabena Ofosushemaa Shay 1 (yes, she really is) recently bestowed upon us her third body of work, a 7-track EP titled Enigma.
Professionally trained as a nurse in Germany, Wendy Asiamah Addo relocated back to Ghana to pursue a career in music. She signed to Rufftown Records in January 2018, shortly after the death of rising sensation, Ebony Reigns. This unfortunate timing resulted in many feeling she was brought in as a sort of replacement. She announced her arrival on the scene with strong singles such as “Uber Driver,” “Bedroom Commando,” and “The Boy is Mine.” She continued to be met with allegations of copying Ebony’s style, but she paved her own path and has carved out her space in Ghanaian entertainment. Enigma is her latest foray in blazing her own trail.
The journey begins with “Murda,” a mid-tempo love song with strong Dancehall-inspired drums. The drums are accompanied by bright piano chords, mallet accents, a rumbling bassline, and an unusual synth line in the chorus. Wendy Shay rides the upbeat instrumental quite effortlessly. While there are obvious hints of autotune in places, her vocals are crystal clear, and her considerable talent as a singer is apparent in her range and dexterity. The melodies she chooses here are relatively simple but they are sweet, and the harmonies in the chorus give it an endearing quality. The biggest drawback I find is the barrenness of the lyrics. The rhymes are conspicuously rudimentary with lines as straightforward as “Inna the dark, boy turn on mi light, I wanna love you with all mi might, You make fly high just like a kite, Me and you see we no go fight, See the things I dey do for you, Me I go fi’ to kill for you, I wrote this song for you, Dedicate all to you.” There is nothing wrong with simple lyrics but these strike the ear as a bit lackadaisical.
Next up is “Habibi” which is a very danceable and energetic Afrobeats bop. The lively drums are backed by various percussions, processed vocal runs, and upbeat chords. I really enjoy the way Wendy Shay starts the song, singing “Habibi, Habibi, Habibi, Habibi” with extremely appropriate Middle-Eastern intonations, considering “Habibi” is an Arabic term of endearment. The song’s hook also features gamakas (sliding notes typical of Arabic and Indian music) that add extra spice to Wendy Shay’s singing. The simplicity of the lyrics works a bit better on this song as the melodies and delivery make up for what the writing lacks. Lyrics like, “E do me like déjà vu, Cuz your love is overdue, It’s forbidden like taboo, Cuz tonight is me and you,” are standard fare in songs like these.
After this is “Mariama.” Immediately, this song leaps out as a cut above the previous ones. The instrumental is sonorously rich; composed around layers of riffing guitars, bouncy mallet chords and rattling Afrobeats drums. The content of the song is also significantly richer, seeing Wendy Shay pleading with the eponymous Mariama to not take her man: “Mariama Mariama ma, Please don’t take my man, Cuz I know you can.” The lyrics paint the picture of resignation to Mariama’s beauty. It frames a tried-and-true song topic in an interesting perspective, and that makes it refreshing in its own way.
“Ruthless” is up next and, thematically, it draws parallels with Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money.” On it, Wendy Shay calls out a debtor who seems to be living large on social media. “She dey do it for the gram, Glam for the gram, Chill for the gram, anything for the gram, You chopping life, You living large, Soon them go know the truth cuz I dey come for you.” It remains to be seen whether this song was inspired by real life events considering the fact that she actually mentions a name “Diana.” Musically, the instrumental is smooth, featuring sparse percussion-driven songs, and warm lavish pads. While the singing is good, the song lacks the bite and energy I would expect for the subject matter. She tries to put on an intimidating gruff tone on the repetitive chorus, growling “Bitch, better give me money,” but it rings hollow and detracts from the smoothness of the song. She manages to sound a bit more convincing on the second verse, singing “You better cut your own coat for your own size. You should know how gangstas we roll, Do you wanna see ma dark side, Diana, I’m a real bad girl way from Ghana, I go fuck you up like Montana.”
“One Man” features booming Afroswing drums over sparse chords and a pulsing bassline. Over these, Wendy Shay sings about her desire for one man and one man only. “One man wey dey drive me crazy, One man wey dey make me happy, One man wey dey chop my pumpum, One man make my heart go boom boom.” The elementary-sounding lyrics make a return on this song. The plainness is amplified by the simplicity of the instrumentals and the basic melodies employed. “Baby take my love, Baby use my love, Sugarcoat my love, I go do anything for you,” she sings with barely any extra flourishes. The song feels generally inert and is easily the most skippable across Enigma.
“New Level” is the penultimate song, and is my favourite on the project. It jumps out in a similar fashion to “Mariama.” The instrumental is groovy, with rattling shakers, danceable drums, a funky bass guitar rhythm, and a boisterous main synth line that carries it all. Wendy Shay implements a variety of catchy melodies and playful exuberant cadences to explain how her level has changed and she is now “Living her high life.” A large portion of the song makes use of group vocals that inject the song with vibrance. This song also features some of the best writing across Enigma with lines such as “Pass that bad bele boy to the left, His time don pass that be why he be ex, I move long time now on to the next, (To the left, to the left, to the next),” which includes an interpolation of Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable.”
Enigma is rounded off by “Heaven,” a song defined by rippling Highlife guitars, spacious percussions, live drum flourishes, and the signature Ghanaian Highlife claves. Thematically, the song seems a bit confused. It begins with Wendy Shay expressing a desire to be someone’s wife. In the second verse, she sings “Timothy Timothy, My baby boo Timothy, We go dey together, eternity. Forever together in unity.” These imply a desire to be coupled up. However, the chorus clearly exclaims in rousing group vocals “In heaven there is no boyfriend, So allow me make I just have fun.” This gives off a contradiction. And then she concludes the song praying, “When we go to heaven, I pray there’ll be joy in Zion,” which feels like an oddly tangential direction. Either way, if you don’t listen that closely, the song is pleasant enough to listen to.
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Perhaps the biggest enigma here is why Enigma is so named, because none of the songs seem thematically relevant to the title. Title aside, Enigma is an immensely average EP. While none of the songs is completely bad, a lot of it is run-of-the-mill. The instrumentals are decent but mostly generic, the song-writing is largely basic and repetitive, and the audio engineering is fine at best. The strongest elements of the project are Wendy Shay’s voice, and some aspects of her vocal delivery. If anyone is keen to listen to Enigma, I would advise them to have it on in the background while they did other things. I would only recommend about three of the songs as active listens, and even those wouldn’t be concrete recommendations. Sadly, the songs seem pretty on par for Wendy Shay, which could be a good thing for the core dedicated members of her fanbase. For those outside of that group, I would hope that Wendy takes the time to develop her craft further. Wendy Shay, however, appears to have the talent and the appeal, and her potential is evident on some of these songs.
Lyricism – 0.8
Tracklisting – 0.9
Sound Engineering – 1.2
Vocalisation – 1.2
Listening Experience – 1
Rating – 5.1/10
Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media.