Yinka Bernie invites you to listen with your hearts and not just your ears. These are songs for the lonely nights, the rainy late-night drives, and the occasional pillow cries…
By Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku
Versatile producer and artiste, Yinka Bernie, has been a fixture in the Alternative and Alté scenes since he began releasing music in 2017. As a producer, he has seen his stock rise meteorically lately due to the global success of Amaarae’s “Sad Girlz Luv Money Remix.”
However, as an artiste, he tends to keep a lower profile. He has carved out a niche for himself with his unique sound; typically relying on low-tempo Afrofusion production, and his deep baritone voice. He has also amassed a following of devoted fans through his commitment to intimate personal shows, and making his music available in physical formats. This is perfectly on-brand for the emotional vulnerability and honesty that are typically the thematic focus of his work. This vulnerability is fully on display throughout his new EP, Something New.
Strong percussions get us going on “Who Do You Call.” Yinka Bernie enters humming deeply alongside emotionally-charged guitars. This song reminds us of the need for community, as it asks, “Who do you call when you’re down and in your head, Who do you call when you’re low on frequency” in a half-sung, half-spoken manner more reminiscent of a friend’s quiet words than a musician on a song. “You can call on me,” he says reassuringly with sweet backing vocals courtesy of Zinzie. Those are all the lyrics in the song, but it works almost like a mantra. There is a moment where I find some of the percussions a bit overpowering over the softness of the vocals, but they quickly give way to a swelling ending overture that gives the song a hopeful lift.
“Very Simple” is the next song, and it sees Yinka Bernie marvelling at the natural beauty of his muse. “Your beauty’s naturally, melanin chocolate skin, I love your style it’s very simple, love your waist and your hips too.” The song is fittingly founded on a very simple two-tone key progression. Sparse drums furnish the instrumental further but leave a lot of space for Yinka’s bass notes to fill. He breaks into a rap verse with laid back delivery and lyrics that heap admiration on his lover. “You hypnotize me, if na travel I’m organising… hit my phone I’m coming, even when I dream it’s you I want.” The song has the feel of a spoken word reading that makes it easy to nod along to.
“YB why? Interlude” marks the mid-point of the EP and begins with a Fuji rendition that fades into a voice over from a fan playfully admonishing Yinka for keeping his supporters waiting for new music. Over swinging afro guitars, the voiceover also reminds Yinka that while the fans are waiting, they are also patient because of their enjoyment of the work he has delivered thus far, exemplifying the connection that his listeners have with his music.
Next up is “Smile Before You Sleep.” This is my favourite song on the EP because it exemplifies where Yinka’s music is strongest. It is an emotive, meditative experience. Ghanaian artiste and producer, Øbed, assists with the spacious production and soothing echoing backing vocals. “Maybe you should smile before you sleep. You know you can ring me in your dreams, You know I’ll be right there when you wake,” they sing in harmony. The song presents a blank canvas for swirling emotions to be experienced in their fullness. This is a song you can cry to.
And if you do find yourself crying, Yinka Bernie and Joyce Olong tell you, on the final song, that there’s nothing wrong with that. “It’s Okay to Cry” is probably Yinka’s biggest song as an artiste, raking up over a million streams on Spotify alone. It released as a single in 2020, and has been plucking people’s heartstrings since then. “It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to feel lost inside,” they sing reassuringly over deep sombre pianos and percussion-heavy drums. The lyrics dive deep into the heaviness we all sometimes feel as we go through life. “Most times I want to be alone, I’d cry my little self to sleep,” Joyce Olong admits.
“You see your friend progress while you stuck. It’s a different gist when they clown you for that,” Yinka confesses. And when you find yourself connecting and relating to the emotions they’re singing through, they invite you to release it all in a cathartic moment as the track ends.
Yinka Bernie makes beautiful music, but not in the most conventional sense. His music might be a harder sell to mainstream audiences. He doesn’t make music with particularly danceable beats. He doesn’t make party anthems with catchy lyrics and earworm melodies. He doesn’t even really make the tearjerkers that become comforting listens during breakups and heartbreaks. Vocally, his singing is not the most melodious. But there is a warmth and comfort in the depth of his baritone and in its closeness to you in the mix. It feels like a friend speaking into your ears. Lyrically, his songs are not deep poems put together by a wordsmith, but they don’t need to be because there is more meaning in the simplicity of the words he chooses. He makes emotionally honest music. “It’s Okay to Cry,” and “Smile Before You Sleep” are perfect examples of Yinka Bernie’s forte. He doesn’t need to paint a full picture for the listener to receive. Rather, he creates a framework that invites the listener to actively participate in the creations. The sonic atmosphere creates a safe space for you to inject and experience your own memories and emotions with him. It’s almost like an abstract painting, where the viewer is allowed to instil their own interpretation on what the artist has presented them with. “Who Do You Call” also achieves this open-endedness. “Very Simple” is the only track that falls short of this. It lags a bit behind the other songs in terms of musicality and in the emotional punch it packs.
Something New is something new for listeners. It is emotions laid bare. Yinka Bernie invites you to listen with your hearts and not just your ears. These are songs for the lonely nights, the rainy late-night drives, and the occasional pillow cries. There is space in the Nigerian music industry for sounds and styles beyond the popular, and this EP is one of the projects that could spearhead that diversification.
Lyricism – 0.7
Tracklisting – 1.5
Sound Engineering – 1
Vocalisation – 0.7
Listening Experience – 1.5
Rating – 5.4/10
Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media.