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ALBUM REVIEW (9: Èsan by Brymo)

9Esan
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A bunch of beautiful ideas pieced together and delivered with indigenous music…

Known for a myriad of things, Brymo, christened Olawale Ibrahim Ashimi, has gone through metamorphosis in the course of doing music. Right from 1999 when he recorded his first song titled Future as a secondary school student who was passionate about music and football, to 2002 when he and his friends pioneered The Aliens, a music band that got disbanded three years after, one notices the singer’s career has not been as smooth as a sheet of glass.

Brymo, who calls himself Oláwálé Olófòrò, got signed to Chocolate City in 2010, amidst masterclass performances on Ice Prince’s 2010 hefty hit, Oleku, and his very melodic self-owned Ara. Brymo’s first ever recorded controversy as a professional happened in 2013 when he was accused by Chocolate City of breaching his contract with the label.

Brymo climbed the height of controversy when he performed half-naked at the beach, wearing only the female panties known as G-strings in the video of his 2018 Heya song, and finally reached the climax in 2020, some months after the release of the classic Yellow album, when a lady accused him of rape on Twitter. He did dare the lady to show up in court for the libel against him, but nothing has been heard from her since then. This development gave birth to his 8th studio project titled Libel released in October, 2020.

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Oláwálé Olófòòrò: Brymo.

In the same 2020, Brymo frequently taunted and annoyed rival fans by publishing several posts on Twitter demeaning some of the A-list artistes from Nigeria. He outrightly claimed Yellow is the best album from Africa in 2020 each time an A-list artiste released an album. This got him backlashes from several rival fans on the blue bird platform.

At the ungodly hours of the 9th day of the 9th month of 2021, Brymo took the world, especially his loyalist fans, by surprise when he released his 9th studio project unannounced, contrary to the pop culture of announcing and releasing cover arts of an album a month or two before its release. This got the media, his fans and many rival fans talking.

In spite of all this, surprisingly, 9 still did great numbers on several music platforms garnering 30s and 50s of thousands of streams across some of them within 24 hours of its release. A major part of the album, 9: Èsan, had peaked at No. 1. on Nigeria iTunes three days after its release.

In January, 2021, while announcing he would drop an album, he explained that it is titled 9 because of its significance of being his 9th studio project since he debuted as a singer. 9 is a double-faced album divided into Èsan and Harmattan and Winter. Èsan consists of 9 songs judiciously delivered in Yoruba, while Harmattan and Winter houses 9 tracks too rendered in English Language.

However, Èsan has confused quite a huge number of his fans who mistake the Yoruba title to mean number 9. This is intentional. Notwithstanding, Brymo clarified this when he replied a fan who had asked if Èsan means 9. He replied saying it’s not Eésàn-án which is 9 in the Yoruba numbering system, but Èsan which could mean revenge, nemesis or karma.

The same way an egg hatches, Èsan breaks open with the daredevilish Àkókó on which Brymo asserts that “èmi l’àkókó” (I am the first). Even “àwon omoge”, “àwon màjèsín”, “ará àdúgbò” and “àwon màmá” (both the young ladies, the able-bodied, the neighbors and the mothers) know the stuff Brymo is made of when it comes to music matters.

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Brymo performed on stage.

In what anyone would take to be self-glorification, maybe an eulogy specific to Yoruba culture per se, Brymo weaves an ode for himself with so much authority and boldness. The result is melody from himself and the choral backup in all shades of glory and grandeur. This is knowing and acknowledging your self-worth or self esteem in its simplest form. That’s not pride!

Like a predatory bird, maybe an hawk, Brymo dives into the philosophy of life being a matter of duality on Méjì Méjì (two two). Here, Brymo infers that “méjì méjì la d’áyé” (life was created in two), using the love affair between him and his woman, probably his baby mama, Esse Kakadaare, as a bedrock for this assertion.

Brymo’s assertion is not alien to the Yorubas, it is embedded in their traditional beliefs that even humans were created as twins, and if one is lucky enough before he dies, he would meet his twin counterpart. Once again, the use of a backup choir is prioritized for the second time on the album.

Méjì Méjì does not wind to an end without a takeaway; the singer, while alluding to the book of James, chapter 1 verse 19 hence, “be quick to listen but slow to judge”, states that virtue or good behavior does not guarantee financial success or fulfillment while religion does not bring redemption.

Brymo, the first on Àkókó, assumes new roles on track three, Okùnrin Méta. He describes himself as darkness which should be destroyed on the first verse, and light which destroys gloom on the second verse. Okùnrin Méta is a Yoruba word used to mean “a brave-hearted man”.

On this saxophone-induced rock, Brymo hopes the creator would grant him the fortitude to bear the harshness faced on his journey to his destination; his desires for reaching his destination are the vehicle carrying him about thus, “èdùn okàn, òun l’okò” (desires are vehicles). Brymo’s voice deepens on this track, hence, the mainspring for the appearance of a wind instrument on this track.

Track three is where the title of this part of the album emanates from. Brymo has stated in one line of the song that “mo wíwo bí èsan” (I am heavy like revenge) while describing himself as the light which fights darkness.

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Brymo performing live on stage at Organized Chaos on October 1st, a concert he organized after he released 9.

The seriousness of Èsan deepens just like Brymo’s voice on Okàn Mi Ti Fó Wéwé (my heart has been shattered). The singer addresses heartbreak and his fear to handle a love affair. The society who believes a man should be polygamous “okùnrin tó le fé méta mérin”, tag the singer “olùfòyà” (a coward) for sticking to one woman.

It is ridiculous how you tell a man who cannot handle one woman to marry three or four. Brymo fears love as a result of heartbreak. He is ready to do the unthinkable to please his partner but she ends up leaving him in spite of all that, as told in the second verse of the song. The result is grief and philopobia.

With an acoustic guitar, Brymo delivers contradictions on Tèmi Ni Tèmi (what is mine is mine), a typical traditional folk sound. This track answers the question that has bothered many about Brymo: why did he drop Afrobeats after Ara, Oleku, Shawty etc? Why is he unconventional? Why does he not relate with the other A-list artistes? Why does he not go by the status quo? Why?

Brymo does not and will not do all these because “àfarawé ò se tèmi” (imitation isn’t my thing) or “ká dá dúró ni mo wá rí” (being different is what I discovered). While Tèmi Ni Tèmi is a plea to a dutiful lover, and an acknowledgement of her undying love, the song addresses the fact that one cannot please the society.

According to Brymo, “bí n bá fàá, wón á ló le, bí n bá tuú lè, wón á ló rò” (if I tie it, they will say it is too tight, if I let it loose, they say it is too loose). Realizing that you cannot please humans, Brymo shows that he no longer cares about people’s perception of him, hence, “bó wù wón, k’ón para won” (if they like, they can kill themselves).

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Brymo at the Organized Chaos Concert in Victoria Island, Lagos.

Òkùnkùn (darkness) lends support to another Yoruba belief; the indigenous belief that life is a journey, “àjò l’ayé”. However, on this single-versed song, Brymo defies the Christian/Islamic belief that there is afterlife. To him, no one knows where he comes from. No physical proofs. Therefore, no one can prove, physically, where humans go after death too.

The whole song is an epistle (a letter) to a lover who thinks Brymo is hiding from her. Love is the only thing that can safe him from the harsh realities of life. His belief arises as a result of his suspicion or logic; “mo fura pé òkùnkùn lati wá” (I suspect that we came from the dark or where we don’t know and therefore cannot explain logically).

Alalúyà Mejé (seven halleluyah) , track seven, continues the Yoruba numbering game paused on track three, Okùnrin Méta (a three-men man). The whole song is a reference to the Federal Government proposed repressive laws against its citizens. The National Assembly is guilty of trying to make a restrictive law that forbids citizens from calling out politicians on social media (hate speech).

Amidst this development, the Special Anti-Robber Squad culpable of many crimes against the human rights of many Nigerians was fought via protests in 2020, and as a result was disbanded. All these socio-political phenomena in the country is the backdrop against which this track is set. Politicians are referred to as slave masters “akónilérú” for their excesses which include public funds theft, silencing the mass media amongst a host of other shortcomings.

The song is a reference to “gbogbo ìsèlè kánrinkése” (all the unending tragic occurrences) and how politicians ran out of the country during the 2020 social unrest occasioned by the Lekki Massacre, “òsèlú feré ge”. The song becomes overly folkloric when it reaches its bridge as Brymo exchanges a call/response energy between himself and his backup singers, with more traditional lyrics and chants.

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Brymo excited to see his fans at the Organized Chaos.

The most emotional part of Brymo is on the display on the soulful Fura Síra (be self-conscious). The song is suggestive of Brymo’s woman’s reaction to his 2020 rape accusations on Twitter. Note that there is no clarity about this from the singer whatsoever.

Woven on a dark keyboard sound, Brymo rues his woman’s beliefs in hearsays or accusations of things he isn’t guilty of. It even gets to the extent that she fights him for this particular accuser. The distrust is totally saddening, for Brymo, and his listeners; Brymo’s voice brews pity and evokes sadness. The keyboard only makes this feeling worse. Anyone who is in this situation currently should avoid this song as it may make one’s healing take longer.

We see more Yoruba tradition and custom on Ààre (the president), the 9th track. It begins as though somebody is trying so hard to find a clear radio frequency where he would listen to news. When he finally finds a clearer frequency, the indigenous news program begins with a traditional chanting of proverbs/parables and drumming of a gángan (talking drum) ensemble.

After the introductory song, a traditional newscaster assumes work as he apprises the citizens of the recent social unrest going on in the country. This track is a parody of the news contents broadcast during the peak of the End SARS movement and the massacre in Lagos, and the vandalization, arson and social upheaval that followed.

The track, and the album itself, closes with another traditional song after the broadcaster finishes casting the news. In the song, the singers state that “ààre n bò lájö” (the president is coming home from abroad). This is to mock the Nigerian president who is known for frequently flying abroad on medical trips while his country boils with several crises.

With Èsan, the first part of 9 alone, Brymo proves once again, that he is the difference some people seek in music. I mean, who drops an album without announcing it? Who laces an album with so much indigenization? Who combines wisdom, intelligence, proverbs, parables, lessons, tradition, beauty and so on in his artistry? Who makes so much meaning in every line of a piece of music?

Brymo is quintessential of intelligence. That’s one. Two, he is a custodian of the Yoruba custom and tradition (the language, its music and its use of words like parables and proverbs). He is indigenous and he is not ashamed of it. Three, Brymo is different, and that is why his sounds may not be peddled by the lot who patronize Afrobeats, the sound selling Africa to the world currently. However, Brymo recently described his own sound or genre of music as a “fusion rock”.

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