Art comes in different forms. Art is the landscape on which The Louvre sits. Art is the structure that birthed The Louvre - architecture. Art is everything that's carefully picked in the house. Art is the oil painting that gracefully sits on the wall of The Louvre. Art is the operatic music playing in the background (if any - unlikely though).
Point is, art is everything. While these different forms of artistic expression are unique in their modes of communication to their enthusiasts and analysts, they sometimes overlap. Sometimes, the mode of deciphering a neo-impressionist painting could be a melodrama, supported by operatic effects.
Sometimes, the beauty of a piece of music could be perfectly suited to the finer details that accompany a Basquiat or Van Gogh painting. Sometimes, this overlap in expression happens because art is of a fluid existence. At the centre of it all is expression that can be perceived in different forms.
One of those times that a piece of music feels perfectly suited to the finer details of a piece of classic impressionist art is Chike's debut album, Boo of The Booless. Although the music is made of astute songwriting and earth-wringing substance and carefully crafted diverse production that's defined by a razor-sharp, dreamy vocal texture. This album could easily have been a piece of art at The Louvre.
While most of the great artists in history have incredible debut albums, Chike has managed to create something that's naturally resonant. By word of mouth and the beauty of "social capital," the album has grown in leap and bounds. Chike's music has traveled solely on the strength of its quality.
While quality will never be enough to make a good album, it seems enough for Chike, the self-acclaimed Boo of The Booless. He released the album in the thick of struggle-ridden, love-infested Lagos - and the larger Nigeria. While you are stuck in the thick of a storm, Boo of The Booless is like a calming influence.
In the face of fear, it's like last-ditch confidence. In the heat of passion invoked by love, Boo of The Booless is like perfect ecstasy of good coitus. In the face of death, the album is like one last embrace before the breath tails off. In sadness, the album feels like an accomplice that comforts and urges.
In atheism, Chike uses words and practices peculiar to religion (Christianity) as foil. As City FM OAP, Melody Hassan puts it, "The best time to listen to Chike's Boo of The Booless is at 2 am in the morning."
Life is not a bed of rose and Chike's Boo of The Booless does not delude you into thinking life is all sunshine and rainbow highs. Sometimes, he is like a Solitary Reaper. Other times, he's like a maiden on a melancholic strain.
Some have criticized the album for offering nothing new. The argument is that we have heard it all from Simi, Johnny Drille, Ric Hassani, Adekunle Gold, Moelogo and so forth. While they might have a point, Chike stands out for his vocal texture and the way he uses it. He also stands out for perfectly timed genre experimentation.
When it's all said and done, it is also unfair to downplay the quality of albums by the 'generic' tag. In essence, nothing is new. Even the colour blocking that forms the basis of our current style trend is a rebranded version of mid-80s fashion peculiar to on-air personalities. When all is said and done, Chike finds has an early contender for album of the year.
Chike rides the familiar and 'generic,' but finds his own version of impetus and substance. You can also tell that Chike is a child of African sounds. While this album can be Nigerian, at some point, it borrowed from Ireland, East Africa, American pop, South Africa and Franchophone Africa. Boo of The Booless is a well-traveled delivery by a sound-craft of different influences.
Importantly, Chike is a child of sounds, so he explores everything familiar to his artistry for quality. An album doesn't stop being quality because it sounds familiar. As we breakdown this album on central themes, here is why Boo of The Booless is an album of the year contender;
On what seems an alternative song from the depths of Ireland, rich on violins and chaotic drums, Chike rides vocal legatos for, 'Beautiful People.'. On it, Chike takes a trip across several shades of life to appreciate the love he has for his woman. In essence, he sees love through the eyes of others. This is amazing songwriting. Since its release in 2018, this has remained fresh.
While Chike was a purveyor of love throughout this album, he also wishes love on others. On 'Finders Keepers,' he merges alternative rock riffs with African guitar chords. It's also a intermission for Boo of The Booless - the divide between love songs about the good times and a diary of the dark times in love.
At his listening party on Sunday, February 16, 2020, he performed a fast-paced version of this song.
'Nakupenda' is Swahili and It means 'I Love You.' This sound is very afro with roots in Eastern and Southern parts of Africa. With its resonant guitar chords and love-themed melodies, Chike and Ric Hassani declare their undying love for faceless women. That third verse alongside the beat switch is old school, but it works everytime.
'Forever' features MI Abaga and it takes Chike into the belly of mid-2000s American R&B both in sound, lyrical delivery, flow and embellishment. This could easily have been produced by The Dream and Tricky Stewart. Lyrically, it could have been performed by any of our American R&B heroes as Chike declares his love without holding back.
MI Abaga is a legend, I'm not surprised. In fact, he seems to drop his best verses as the years pass. What an incredible piece of imagination for his verse - Basically a 30-year story of love that epitomizes the words, "For richer, for poorer."
This writer is confident that the hook on 'Amen' is the best thing he's heard since the last time he heard cash pop out of the ATM. This is wedding music in power, essence and construction. This is the kind of love Yoruba mothers hope their sons find - well, till patriarchy makes them realize being a demon is better.
On what seems like live instrumentation, Chike croons Nigerian grassroot folk that feels cut from the forests with titbits of East African love tunes. And please, don't underrate that production. This song is a product on the brilliant bit of production it sits on.
'Roju' is portmanteau of'Romeo and Juliet.' Chike says he tried to avoid being generic by simply naming the song, 'Romeo and Juliet.' This time, Chike brings it home to Nigerian hi-life. After the chilling slide post-'Finders Keepers,' Chike brings the message back to declarations of love. On 'Running,' he promises to run to a woman like an iron to a magnet.
Shout-out to Ogaga Sakpaide for his A&R work on this album and whoever oversaw the production on, 'Soldier.' Nothing is as mesmerizing as detail on a quality album. As the song drifts into the land of protection with the aid of yet another imaginative piece of masterful songwriting, something happened; trumpets sounded.
Trumpets are a core part of any military. That's just amazing.
Downtime in love
'If You No Love' is an anthem for the doubts we encounter in love. Equally, it's also the need for reassurance and words of affirmation. In a world where masculinity ridicules vulnerability, Chike wears his heart on his sleeve. The sound merges hi-life guitars with R&B rhythms that only African folk percussion could birth.
Chike sings, "If you no love me, make you nor talk say you love me..." If only many Nigerian men could be this vulnerable. The vocal back-ups in the final moments of the song are very South African. But, "You nor be Finidi, nor finish me" is a little here and there. Finidi was more a creator than a finisher.
Insecurity kills love stories. Chike sings about it from the perspective of a man. The beat is dancehall & B and the song is 'Insecure.' While this writer wouldn't have put it on this album for its sonic similarity to a lot of songs on Boo of The Booless, its topic stands out. Thus, it deserves its place on the album.
Troubles in love can be troubling to document - Not for Chike though. 'Forgive' is the advice for a troubled heart. If Beyonce ever listened to a song before forgiving Jay Z, this might have been it. Piano-based sentimental ballads are always beautiful, but when you have a way with hooks like Chike does, everything feels better.
Even if your heart is hard like raging ice block fresh from Shoprite, 'Forgive' is like sunlight to melt it. From the association of Yoruba men, we thank Chike for this anthem. We promise to use it diligently and wisely. Importantly, we promise to never overuse it. This song is amazing. The last ballad to move this writer like this was 'Under The Garlows' by Katie Garfield.
The next track after 'Insecure' also documents issues in love. Chike doesn't just talk about dealing with issues in love. He sings about losing love to someone who fell out of love with him on 'Out Of Love.' The hook to this song feels tailor-made for live performances. Its power is resonance with a lot of people dealing with loveless love affairs.
The best part of 'Out of Love' is that violin that creeps up at times - so beautiful. Chike ma pa mi nau. 'Faithful' is a perspective of conundrum in love. It is the perspective of a man who is afraid of cheating on a woman who loves him. As the ballad rumbles into eclectic ballad suited to the final scenes of an epic love story told in technicolor, he admits he loves 'the other woman.'
However, he chooses the love of his actual partner. This is just amazing songwriting. Not everybody can write this - it requires imagination. The power of the cellos, violins merge into carefully performed presentation of a well-drilled orchestra. This song is made for an actual choir.
If the beat on 'Faithful' were released without any vocals, it could well by an Henry Jackman score.
On the hi-life of 'Watching All Over Me' sits an amazing song. No sentence exemplifies this song better than those of Excel Joab of Boombuzz, "If Chike takes this song to radio stations in Eastern Nigeria, he will blow to pieces..." Well, he's right. This is amazing. Zoro was yet another feature who didn't give anything but quality.
After consuming his debut, one thing is clear; Chike listens to music from different parts of the world - Boo of The Booless is an album of many influences. While the songwriting of this album is deft, beautiful, imaginative and brilliant, Chike's way with hooks defines this album in different ways and takes its songs from good to excellent.
Nonetheless, Chike's artistry might have made Boo of The Booless what it is, but its production is why it will go into the realm of 'classic material' overtimes. As I listened to Chike's debut, I was almost tempted to find a weakness, but I couldn't find any barring the 'Finidi line' I highlighted earlier. This is by far Nigeria's best album in a minute.
It's amazing that this goes into the realm of albums like Gongo Aso, Superstar, MI2, African Giant, Baddest Guy Ever Liveth, Every Loves Ice Prince, Merchants, Dealers and Slaves and Beautiful Imperfection in terms of quality - not impact. The only thing that could kill this album is time, but if time has taught us anything, it's that it sharpens quality.
It's also amazing and noteworthy that Boo of The Booless and Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps have dropped. This writer has a feeling that Nigeria's soundscape is going into another sonic disruption to find its next pop sound. The last time that happened was between 2004 and 2008. Then, Hip-Hop, R&B generated hits in the Nigerian mainstream.
During that disruption, anything was flying. Even the very traditional music that was, 'Kerewa' by Zule Zoo became a hit. We're now back in that era. For the next one or two years, it will be interesting to see what becomes of R&B acts - I wager Nigerian music will see one or two R&B stars.
For Chike, the temptation to stay comfortable with the love of a niche fan base is highly persuasive. But ultimately, he should watch it - it can be tricky. Nonetheless, it all depends on what Chike wants and what he wants to be. If he likes what his niche fan base represents and he's mostly happy with satisfying that, then it's fine. Nothing is more important that an artist's happiness.
For now though, Boo of The Booless looks like an early contender for album of the year. It is also a better album than Laughter, Tears an Goosebumps - Boo of The Booless has no weakness.
However, barring a number of high-profile hits from Boo of The Booless, Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps will win any category where they're both nominated. The reason; impact and commercial success.
Shout-out to all the wedding money Chike is about to make.
• 0-1.9: Flop
• 2.0-3.9: Near fall
• 4.0-5.9: Average
• 6.0-7.9: Victory
• 8.0-10: Champion
Pulse Rating: /10
Content and Themes: 1.9/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 2/2