Pretty boy Funbi Emiola is not exactly a new kid on the block.
He has been lending his sweet voice to our soundscape for a while now.
His breakthrough on MI’s mixtape is quite historical, given his steady and assured rise. His affiliations with the New School Alternative Hip-hop and Rap scene, most conspicuously with acts like Show Dem Camp, Tomi Thomas and BOJ has ensured that he has a number of memorable songs.
Top on that list will be “Up To You”, which easily characterises his voice as a mellifluent tenor. His ability to hook octaves and parse ad-libs with seeming effortlessness is definitely complicated also by his good looks.
This has assured a large following from the ladies—and the demography of choice is the upwardly-mobile tech-savvy Afropolitan millennial.
Serenade is for this audience.
The album cover art is unpretentious about its intentions. The task at hand is subtle seduction—after all this is the consequence of a serenade.
Seven tracks and 24 minutes might seem like a short tenure for the uninitiated, but the album warms up to its purpose from the get go.
“Show Up” is appropriately titled because you cannot serenade in absentia.
“Show Your Color” segues in with clockwork precision. Funky, jaunty and tongue-in-cheek Funbi’s tenor finds it match and a few high notes here and some uses for his Yoruba.
At the mention of Yoruba, one is reminded of that KWAM 1 song of a similar name. A bit about mating rituals: display of colourful garments is a delightful pre-requisite for the eventual fusion of gametes.
On the eponymous song, Funbi goes full bedroom ballad mode, with stiff and resounding guitar riffs complementing his soulful singing. “Serenade”, obviously, is a song about serenading; a lot is not left unsaid at the instance of repetition. “Serenade” becomes a metaphor and verb for seduction. But what is glorious about “Serenade” is how brilliant song-writing conjures poetry and still finds a space for unambiguous consent.
Soft music persists on a trite theme on the song, “Voodoo”. Somi did this on Juju (link to Somi’s The Lagos Music Salon).
Casting a cursory glance at a love interest is still like casting spell.
Nothing has changed. Fumes and hazy lights, silhouettes and quick movements behind partitioned curtains—Funbi punctuates his take with horns and leaves it throaty. This song is about temptation more than it is about the diabolical. It is definitely about brazen intentions—and by a long walk—about consent.
“Body” is the climax. By far the best song on the album, its strong point is its raw energy and insistence on body chemistry and a navel-gazing type of funk. It could have been a dancehall song, if it stung a bit harder and leaned more to percussion than rhythm—but the song is just too absorbed with being sultry!
On this album, Funbi finds his niche somewhere between his soulful singing and inveterate sampling. His influences are endless, but most prominent are his recurring nods at Soul music (as practiced by American greats), Afrobeat instrumentation (intermittent and evenly timed studio-tweaked burst of horns) and the easy mood of Palmwine music.
“If I Want It Back” features good song-writing, impeccably timed pauses in the mode of jumpy reggae music while “Ride With You” shuffles in time, recruiting Odoyewu, the over-used and tasteless phrase in recent Nigerian music.
Funbi is not totally sold on being alternative, being indifferent to the prospects of popular dance music and its most important trapping: stardust. Even when he is not trying to be your next Wizkid or Skales, he carries their influences.
Never mind that these two songs lose the Serenade plot that the previous songs so effortlessly developed.