Segun Akinlolu (aka Beautiful Nubia) blends a compelling mix of soul and contemporary Nigerian folk and roots music on the aptly titled Soundbender. This is the eleventh studio album from a multifaceted singer-songwriter who is a linchpin in today’s music scene in Nigeria. When Akinlolu isn’t performing across the country, especially at schools and universities, he’s busy composing music, writing poetry and organizing an annual music festival. He also leads the African Socio-Cultural Ideas Initiative, which encourages bright thinkers to discuss and debate the future of African prosperity. Akinlolu’s social awareness and positivity are evident within the lyrics.
The tone of this album is mostly mellow and laid back, but the words, sung in Yoruba and English, are sometimes at odds with the music. While Akinlolu is upbeat and hopeful in his approach, he doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality facing Africans today. However, this record never gets bogged down by subject matter. It is a celebration of life and possibility.
The CD opens with “Ara,” which features a melody that is revisited on the closing track, “Akojade.” Akinlolu’s horn arrangements stand out immediately and are consistently tremendous throughout the recording. The group sounds relaxed and at ease, in a song that announces the arrival of the Roots Renaissance Band with a variety of dances.
“Akawogbekun” has a somber sound and discusses the virtues of patience and hard work. The horns are deeply moving and fill the song with warmth, contrasting nicely with the high-pitched violin. “Dreaming (On a Breezy Night)” picks up the pace with one of the best tracks on the album. Akinlolu’s voice is sweet and tender with a hint of urgency as he tells listeners to rise up and overcome their pain and sorrow to move forward to a better tomorrow.
“Abukeoshin” is an Afrobeat-tinged composition that adapts the folktale of the tortoise’s betrayal of the snail. “Ten Lashes” follows with a shuffling song about standing defiant in the face of abuse and torture. “One Good Soul” is another funky, up-tempo track that encourages people to stay positive even when answers aren’t forthcoming. “Anyone, Everyone” is slightly psychedelic with a subtle slice of reggae influence. “Akojade,” a slight reprise of the opening cut, closes the record nicely.
Across a set of fifteen tracks, Beautiful Nubia and the Roots Renaissance Band carve out an impressive selection of songs that balance folk and soul music in a natural way with great instrumentation. However, the production and mixing of the record sounds unbalanced at times. The horns are clear and vibrant, along with the vocals, but the percussion and guitar are often buried in the recording, resulting in a few songs sounding flat. The voicing of the piano on the keyboard is thin and chintzy, especially when it’s paired with a synthesizer effect. These little gripes take little away from the recording, but they could have been avoided altogether with more careful consideration. Soundbender is a nice record that stands out as a unique and passionate effort in today’s Nigerian music scene. Segun Akinlolu is a talented bandleader and his group put in a great shift on this CD.
Originally published in RootsWorld Magazine.