Since entering the scene in 2006 at the Star Quest music competition as part of a band and going solo in 2008, Aramide has maintained the image of an ideal soul and R&B artist, and her album Suitcase is a showcase of all she has packed for the trip that is her career: a big voice, local vernacular, Afro-tinged instrumentation, competent lyrics and love that avoids vulgarity.
The defining quality of Suitcase is one that is necessary for professional songwriters, cherished in soul singers, but eschewed by pop stars: the ability to inhabit songs with different personalities and sing them like that’s the only thing you can do. Pop stars remix hits till they’re worn out, but soul singers perform covers, confident that their voices will renew familiar tunes.
‘Eledumare’, the opener of the 15-track album, is the requisite invocation on the Nigerian debut album. It’s a Judeo-Christian admission of the sovereignty of God, his knowledge of the future and an expression of hope that her desires will come to pass. She doesn’t dwell too much on the solemnity of the opener though. She moves on quickly to the uptempo ‘Why So Serious’. It is telling that Aramide performs this as the first of the love songs on the album. Here she’s the urbane lady of whom Fela sang: the one who refuses to be called Lady. The man wants more but she has nothing more to give. “Ko seni to m’ola,” she sings. No one knows tomorrow. But rather than be driven into the hands of romanticism by this ephemerality, she chooses hedonism instead. How Yoruba.
‘Fun Mi Lowo’ featuring Sir Dauda is lyrically reminiscent of Rihanna’s ‘BBHMM’, or Drake in ‘Worst Behaviour’, or AMG’s ‘Bitch Betta Have My Money’, depending on how deep you travel down that rabbit hole. The whistling flute, snapping fingers and simple guitar chords give the song a cheery vibe, but the subject is anything but gay. It’s a plaintive song set to a happy tune. The artist is asking that payment be made for services rendered. A remix of this song is included on the album. For that, Sound Sultan and Koker, who anchors his verse around the hook of his hit song ‘Kolewerk’, join Aramide.
Aramide’s Suitcase is full of references. The title of the seventh track, ‘Yemi My Lover’, is from the romance movies of late Nigerian filmmaker Adeyemi Afolayan, and the openings to ‘Sweet Connection’ and ‘Fun Mi Lowo’ are reminiscent of Ben E King’s ‘Stand by Me’ and Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’. Of all the references on the album, the only artist that feels exhaustively sourced is Asa. This is most evident in ‘Bose’, which starts with the same chord progressions as Asa’s ‘Awe’. “Her name is Bose, she likes to talk se. Wherever she goes the people know, she wan go do ofofo,” she sings introducing us to the story of the gossipy Bose, the way Asa does for insolent Bimpe, a titular character from Asa’s Beautiful Imperfection.
Aramide’s soul and R&B chops are properly displayed in ‘Sweet Connection’ and ‘Hurry Up’: a soaring voice accompanied by concert strings and saxophone riffs. In ‘Stranger in Rome’ she adds a little reggae into the mix but doesn’t stray from the subject of love.
Aramide’s songs are familiar enough to prompt the listener to look for soul singers on whom her album can be mapped. Many people try to ape their favourite singers, fail, then in that failure invent their own style. But Aramide is that singer who got so good at imitation she never felt the need to reinvent the wheel. What she does differently, however, is sing her songs with a language that is closest to what you’ll hear spoken on the streets of urban areas of southwest Nigeria. It’s a mixture of Yoruba, pidgin, slangs and English, which isn’t overtly stylised in service of the poetry of music.
Her guest artists add a dash of pop to her broth of soul: Koker and Sound Sultan on the remix of ‘Fun Mi Lowo’, Adekunle Gold on ‘Love Me’, and Ice Prince on ‘Tell Me’. Gold’s voice blends in on ‘Love Me’, understandable since the ingredients of his music belong in the same class as Aramide’s. Ice Prince, however, sticks out but only for a while. His lines are entirely forgettable here, which is a failure. What you want from pop is catchy lines – somebody text Tekno.
Aramide should have packed lightly. Few artists can pull off a 15-track album, and Suitcase feels like it ends on the tenth track, ‘Iwo Nikan’. Her luggage contains enough for a pleasurable trip, with surplus items. This is a popular error of first-time travellers but Aramide is no rookie. She has all that is needed to become a transcendent soul singer; it’s time she journeyed like one.