IT has been a while since the turn of millennium when the BANTU Collective came to Lagos through promotional appearances for their first album, Fufu.
This was during the Pre-Channel O era before Pay View TV became popular.
This was before Richard Mofe-Damijo came to whisk Jumoke Adegbesan, the ebullient anchor of AIT Lunch Break, away.
Nigeria was already well on its way towards cultural rebirth heralded by the fourth republic.
With more than two decades past, time has moved past collectives, past allegiances and even past monikers. Formerly known as Don Abi, Abiodun, Ade Bantu’s younger brother’s path to musical mastery has been on his own terms—and this did not start with his adoption of his given name as his musical identity.
He has outgrown BANTU, Brother’s Keeper and chosen not to return to Nigeria to live. He has faced music headlong on his own terms and he has got a new album to show for it.
At 11 tracks lasting 10 minutes short of one hour, Break Free is soulful music that showcases Abiodun as a musicophile. His influences range from Soul to Jazz to Afrobeat to Reggae to Rock and Roll—and the album manages to carry the imprint of these genres into a blend of contemplative and conscious music that spools around the possibility of a global listening audience with an African bias.
The album starts with the prologue “Be Good” which begins like Cabaret-styled Jazz enjoying a tentative but instructional first verse, then segues into a Wailer-type reggae chorus before looping back to its former mood.
It would have sufficed to say Jazz and Reggae are Abiodun’s favourite genres, until you hear the wail of Rock and Roll guitars on “Keeping It Raw”, then you are hit with the title track “Break Free” and the seamless blend of rock music and dancehall with conscious lyrics nudges you to accept the possibility of good music that pays obeisance to tradition while still navigating its own direction.
The album finds its core Nigerian fans midway into track progression with the mellow mid-tempo “Take a Look (Ayo Gidi)” which bemoans, in soulful reggae, the country’s floundering status in spite of her potentials for majesty.
“The Great Green Wall” follows in a style similar but dwells on pollution and degradation, admonishing that humans ought to treat the earth better.
“Omo Eniyan” stands out as a personal favourite with soulful Yoruba singing and a terrific base-line. The album at this point sits well within familiar folkloric Afrobeat tradition before progressing to full-fledged Fela mode on “Alarm Don Blow” but with the twang of Rock and Roll guitars.
Besides his exciting formal musical experiments, Abiodun’s gorgeous song-writing is what makes the album even more elegant: sometimes serious, at other times playful, his songs are tempered by the mood he hopes to transfer to his listeners.
Before the title “Break Free” becomes an admonition to the listener, the music has broken itself free of genre restrictions, becoming a cocktail of influences and tributes to formal inventions within musical traditions.