Nigeria: The year of Asake

By Dami Ajayi
Posted on Wednesday, 12 October 2022 15:44, updated on Friday, 14 October 2022 17:42

Musician Asake (photo: @asakemusik)

Some years come with a huge banner, the name of their principal boldly written on them. Call 2022 'the year of Asake' and any keen lover of Afrobeats would nod in agreement. After the customary lull of January upon the previous year’s December overdrive, music began to trickle into the Afrobeats soundscape...

By February, Ololade Ahmed, better known as Asake, had belted out his four-track self-titled Ololade EP album, a worthy turn of phrase following the success of his luxuriant single, ‘Omo Ope’.

EP albums are acoustic hors d’oeuvres that often succeed where the LP album fails on account of their brevity. Ololade EP opens with ‘Trabaye’, which options a new slang into our pop consciousness: ‘Trabaye’ loosely means to feel or get high, and mind altering drugs are often hinted at, but Asake urges us to accept that it means to feel good. Olamide, head honcho at YBNL records, closes the song by welcoming Asake to the fold, but not without a cheeky caveat – that he is “a ladies man”.

Taking a chance

In 2012, Olamide took a chance on himself as a young rapper by releasing his sophomore Yahoo Boy No Laptop album on his  own label. A decade later, YBNL has midwifed Afrobeats icons like Chinko Ekun, Lil Kesh, Adekunle Gold and Fireboy DML into the scene with varying magnitude of success. The gender skew notwithstanding, YBNL is one of the most consistent record labels on the scene and this laurel thickens with their international affiliation with Empire Records. Asake is YBNL’s fastest rising star. With regards to the success of breaking a new slang with Trabaye, check Burna Boy’s song ‘It’s Plenty’.

Ololade EP showed a distinct sense of style and individuality.

Asake (side bar: this name pays homage to his mother – in Yoruba, mothers are named for their children, with Asake, the reverse is the case) works within a familiar tradition of the Street Hop subgenre where earthy Fuji music is finessed into the Hip-Hop medium with volcanic popularity when it succeeds.

Arguably, Olamide owes his commercial acclaim to his work within this subgenre. Ditto for Naira Marley and his cohort notably Mohbad and Zinoleesky. In the broader sense, Street Hop is responsible for sustaining Afrobeats’ success with those who reside on ‘the Lagos Mainland’.

Afrobeats then to now

Once Afrobeats established its Hip-Hop ethos in the early noughties, Fuji, which has held the zeitgeist in a chokehold since the mid-80s, became its scaffolding. Emerging from Islam-influenced music like the older genres Sakara and Apala, Fuji mirrors the life of the working-class Nigeria, the prototype Fuji fan is a road transport worker possibly residing in that Lagos mainland suburb, Mushin.

Fuji gives language to working class people’s realities, codifying their experiences and popularising new slangs. Asake arrived with his own take on Fuji by subverting the call and response format into a choral orchestra of sorts and edging his bet on Koranic chants. ‘Sungba’, the star track on the Ololade EP, roughly means lie supine in Yoruba, but its use in that Amapiano-powered track offers a newer risqué meaning. Burna Boy supported the remix with an inspired verse and Afro moonwalk, which he premiered to the world at his Madison Square Garden concert in April 2022.

‘Call him indefatigable’

In the seven months between the release of Mr Money with the Vibes LP and Ololade EP, Asake has had a hot song in any given month. Call him indefatigable, but this is the least of his powers, as every song has been unique and unmistakably his, including the incantatory ‘Palazzo’ with DJ Spinall, which is exempt from the LP album.

Mr Money with the Vibes takes a quip from his crossover hit ‘Sungba’, an expansive metaphor borrowed from the classic Yoruba Nollywood film Ololade Mr Money. If the ‘Sungba remix’ appears at the tail of the tracklist, ‘Joha’ sits in the middle as the masterpiece of Asake’s methods.

‘Joha’ is not exactly a new song. In fact, it predates his new moniker Asake. ‘Joha’ carries memories of his undergraduate days as a Theatre Arts student at Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife circa 2010s, when he was called Medoo and entertaining his fellow students at the 5000 capacity amphitheatre was a regular fare. ‘Joha’, and indeed his LP, happens when a good song and a ready musician finds the right timing and producer.

‘Usurp cultural innovations ‘

Magicsticks produced all 12 tracks on this album, offering the third acoustic element to the Asake mystic – Amapiano. Much has been said about how Nigerians usurp cultural innovations that are not necessarily theirs, and Amapiano, that irreverent percussive gem of a genre born in the streets of South Africa’s Soweto, came to Lagos and has been finessed for all its worth.

Magicsticks joined the ranks of Niphkeys and Rexxie forming the triad of the sonic alchemists of what veteran music critic Ayomide Tayo calls Neo-Fuji (some have called it Fujipiano).

Blame our Adamic obsession for naming things, but what is undeniable is that Asake has made us revisit the possibilities of Street Hop with his sprawling body of work. Beyond rousing us to dance and offering us a dazzling lyrical delivery that is unmistakably Fuji, Asake offers grit, warmth, even love in the most assertive ways. Plus he is fully aware and at ease with his powers.

For every single he has dropped, he has teased us with a short video of him singing the song, either nursing a drink or smoking roll-up cigarettes. His boyish grill-enhanced grin on the mugshot-inspired portrait on the album cover assures us that he is neither coy nor excessive about this beam of limelight. With him, it is all money and (positive) vibes and we love it for him. It is his time.

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