Working class people living in colonised coastal cities in West Africa had a way of spending their evenings: when the sun was setting and the humid weather dips for people to catch some evening breeze and reminisce about their day and their lives before retiring for the night.
It was also a time to catch a glimpse of beautiful things: sturdy trees, sunset, flint, human bodies and perhaps a beautiful smile.
It was the time when men harmonised their heart desires with delight; when women swayed their hips in time, when children giggled and gathered sand in that idyllic memory of a past that is better imagined as a future. The music from this era was usually sung in native language, rid of quotidian anxieties and carrying the languid promise of possibilities: from nocturnal trysts to winning lotteries to getting stark drunk on palmwine.
This music was called Palmwine music or Abalabi. It was a precursor of highlife in some climes and juju music in other places. Today, it is a totem of nostalgia, the strum of delightful guitars mimicking the din of the city, the trashing of the ocean, the clang of commerce.
Enter Show Dem Camp. Two rappers. Just about this time last year they released a 23-minute model of their earlier iteration of that Palmwine sound, the Juls-produced Feel Alright, which they called Palmwine Music Vol 1. Comprised of seven songs produced entirely by Spax, the album, if you will indulge my pleasure of quoting myself, “presents itself as a coastal city easy-listening contemporary album. Imagine a sound that tries to be a sponge soaking a megacity’s stress, that lures your attention to details antithetical to stress. These details should go without saying but here is a small inventory: party, booze, beach sand, horizons, coastline, beautiful and full-bodied women and, most importantly, love and lust. SDC’s recipe comprises of catchy hooks, digital sonic production laced with exciting live instrumentation and delightful rap”.
Palmwine Music Vol 2 is made up of ten songs, all produced by Spax and enjoys features from musicians who assist with hooks but this is not where the similarities with the previous project end. In fact, it seems to exist on a continuum with the previous project in terms of theme, sonic experience and user feedback.
The sole difference between palmwine music of the 20s and what obtains today is the lack of strophic song verses and class difference. The music is still intended to make you feel the same way: relaxed and pleasurably self-indulgent. The sound is sultry for obvious reasons. The guitar plucking sounds like whines. Damiloun updates (or is it experiment?) with horns. In some sense, it seems like BOJ is trying to best himself, but more importantly Ajebutter 22 complied with the admonition of not rapping in the company of the SDC duo.
It is a delight to see ferocious rappers lowering the amp of their hard-core-ness to coo ballads, lullabies, sonic teasers also known as sweet things that initiate intimate encounters between lovers. Perhaps the only difficulty this album suffers is that the intimacy is exclusively heterosexual. And this brings us full circle to history and communal memory back to the place of beach sand, working class citizens and cool breeze.
Their well off progenies, it seems, have discovered the lively music of their progenitors and Show Dem Camp is at the forefront of revisiting and energising that sound.
That said, we DON’T need a Palmwine Vol. 3.