I met Somi’s ‘The Lagos Music Salon’ three years ago at least 30,000 feet above sea level on a flight en route Addis Ababa from Lagos. Bored with the Inflight Entertainment’s clutter of old films, I ventured into the music section and found an album by an unfamiliar name (Somi) about a familiar place (lagos). The Lagos Music Salon.
My imagination was suddenly fired at the possibilities of cabaret music, delectable jazz, powerful vocal cords quavering while delivering a notable paean on Lagos about this city’s boundless complexity.
The album starts subtly with an arrival. Somi’s crisp voice being let into the border by the Nigerian Immigration Service. Following the arrival, the first song ‘Love Juju #1’ saunters in. This is a song that chalks up an effervescent romantic affection to Juju (love charm). Done entirely in modern juju mode with talking drums, electric guitar licks and steel pedal guitar punctuations, Love Juju #1 is a successful tribute to the music of an era in many ways ‘Love Juju #2’ is not.
Then comes ‘Lady Revisited’ where Somi, assisted by Angelique Kidjo, reclaim Fela’s Lady with fiery feminist intentions and pulsating rhythms. It is a dance song and a protest. At the same time, it manages to be sultry; something that may have made Fela proud.
If ‘Ankara Sundays’ is about keeping up appearances in your Sunday Best, ‘Ginger Me Slowly’ is about romantic persuasions updated with that Nigerian Speak, Yes-o.
‘Brown Round Things’ is a jazz piece about the Lagos Red Light District. Accompanied by Ambrose Akinmusire’s trumpet, Somi takes you through a nocturnal industry where nether fluid exchange is conduct, commute, commodity and commerce.
‘Akobi: First Born S(u)n’ is the most upbeat song in terms of tempo and it is about falling in love with a firstborn son. In Somi’s reckoning, the key role of the first son in the Nigerian family tree dynamics is immaterial to the affection she requests of him. It is a delightful song about loving within a traditional framework. Braced by a playful bassline, the thrill of the song is Somi singing in Yoruba.
Every song on this album keys into the Lagos Experience. ‘Two Dollars A Day’ begins with the Fuel Subsidy Protest and reflects on the pinch of poverty in the city’s interstices. The ultimate Lagos conundrum has always been how lack and luxury can co-exist unfazed like the sides of a coin. But even ‘When Rivers Cry’ on the violin-instructed, Common-assisted eponymous song, Lagos, the self-obsessed, hardly listens.
Most of the album’s interludes and skits hardly hold water save for Somi’s cover of Nelly Uchendu’s ‘Love Nwantinti’ which enjoyed the gospel feel of the acapella group In His Image. It is a sultry tribute to Lagos by way of the River Niger.
Somi’s ‘Last Song’ is fragmentary and valedictory in equal parts but the masterstroke is the poem, ‘Shine Your Eyes’, in its complete detailing of conflicting array of emotions, perceptions and predilections of Lagos.
The victory of Somi’s album is how it curated Lagos’s sounds and kinetics in a manner that is both recognisable and satisfactory. Four years after release, this album is still the most extensive jazz album detailing the Lagos experience.
Nothing beats it yet.