Aramide’s Suitcase, a tributary of Influences

There is something impressionistic about the jacket of Suitcase, Aramide’s debut album. From the leathery brown colour and the sketch of her portrait on it, the next noticeable item is the rather simple one-word title, Suitcase.

We know the uses of a suitcase: for hoisting personal effects—and they are particularly important to musicians, especially on tour. Suffice to say that Aramide is on some sort of virtual tour and she is sharing the intimate items of her suitcase with us—but hold that thought.

Return to the jacket, look keenly and guess who it pays homage to? Lauryn Hill and that iconic album released in 1998 which pretty much changed the way we perceived Hip-Hop in the 90s. The cover jacket of Aramide’s Suitcase is just like the cover of ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’.

At 14 tracks, this suitcase is not as heavy as the standard Nigerian portmanteau. It is produced by Laitan Dada, Tintin, Sizzle Pro with Cobhams Asoquo credited as co-producer on one song. At 55 minutes, it is 12 minutes short of Lauryn Hill’s classic LP.

Back to the jacket, an earnest listener is convinced that a comparison to Ms Hill is too early. When Aramide sings boldly on ‘Eledumare’, a mellow gospel-like song, about how a divine being scripts tomorrow, you may think of the bespectacled genius of latter day Afrosoul, Asa. But the thing about Aramide is that with every song, she calls up new references, new influences.

On ‘Why so serious’, she replaces that gospel verve with the insouciance of a swanky lady who lambasts a swain who leaves 300 missed calls after a one night stand. When she goes, “we both know it’s not that deep”, a strident horn parts way for her whilst a drumbeat huddles her vocals. It is sheer delight, what this lady has done and some women will listen, nod and acquiesce.

‘Funmi lowo’ begins with a whistle quite reminiscent of Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy on the one hand and also draws from the graceful dance melody of Pharrell’s Happy on the other hand. Aramide brings it home when she sings partly in Yoruba and takes it back to Rihanna’s America when she sings, “Bitch better have my money”. It is a complex pastiche, this song, but it doesn’t leave an aftertaste on the acoustic palate if one disregards Sir Dauda’s minor role.

‘Bose’ is cabaret-style textbook Sade Adu with a social commentary slant. “Bosede where you dey go again, you wan go do ofofo?” Then Aramide belts out a slew of social media gossip sites.

‘Sweet connection’ stays with Sade and the beauty of this song is in its undertow of saxophone riffs. Ultimately, Aramide aspires to jazz. ‘Feeling this feeling’, like Sweet Connection, is a love song that brings itself home carried by the percussionist. Ditto for ‘Yemi my lover’ which shares no kinship with that Olamide song but has everything to do with that early Yoruba Nollywood flick that enthralled everyone born in the 80s.

‘Hurry up’ says don’t forget Tracy Chapman. Aramide belongs to the family of those who strum the guitar and she is blessed with a booming voice which she easily lends to Yoruba language, code-switching to English with the fluid grace of polymath.

‘Stranger in Rome’ is what you have been waiting for. That song with reggae inflections and a plot twist that should have taken you to Jamaica, but goes to Rome instead. ‘Iwo nikan’ has an acoustic session feel and her voices ferries it with gusto and grace.

Ice Prince and Adekunle Gold are featured respectively on ‘Tell me’ and ‘Love me’, both duets are decent, even if Aramide is a lot better when she is by herself. 

‘Devil at the doorstep’ almost screams Michael Jackson of the 80s, that retro feel of acoustic guitars and lights trailing dancing shoes. At the height of an octave, Aramide becomes Tina Turner.

‘Ayokunnumi’ tells a story similar to Darey’s ‘Pray for me’ but with less brio. The additional male vocal feels a bit of a stretch but it will suffice. On the last song, she revisits her ticket to commercial stardom, ‘Funmi lowo’ with the aid of Koker and Sound Sultan. Koker channels verses from his Kolewerk. Sound Sultan tries for his slapstick attempt at comedy, as usual. Generally, I prefer when Aramide sings by herself; her voice carries the day each time she does.

Suitcase is clearly the first of many great things in the discography of this hardworking singer-songwriter who just gave 2016 its best album by a female Afro-Soul vocalist.

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