Odunsi (The Engine) is a maverick musician. The Lagos-based singer and producer has been at the forefront of the burgeoning sonic revolution in African music being fueled by millennial culture, which is altering the expectations of an afro-fusion (Alte) sound . This movement is sort of similar to Larry Heard’s deep house movement as sincere release of emotion, rather than the mundane mathematical rhythm engineer the sound of the future. On his debut full length project ‘rare.’ Odunsi broadcasts the liberating energy of creative freedom through 14 bespoke musical moments of bliss and pain and joy and hope, all threaded with the intriguing idiosyncrasies of a highly creative artist.
Released on October 11, 2018 via Kimani Moore Entertainment, rare. is a personal 14-track ode to unrequited love, punctuated by a frenzied amalgam of synth-pop bass, funky synthesizers riff, down-tempo Azonto kicks, late 80s soul, 90s RnB and afropop music. Indeed, the musical notes that form the sonic signature of this record resonate the mild-mannered yet eccentric persona Odunsi exudes, a product of a deeply rooted musical foundation that sees him inspired by and learning from a broad spectrum of influences from Sade, Kiki Gyan and Prince to Donell Jones and Nneka. Indeed, these influences were present to varying degrees on his debut EP, Time Of Our Lives (2016) and were some of the qualities that made his very early music standout on SoundCloud. Yet on this new record, he displays a comforting sense of growth and maturity in his craft which shows in the full and lush sonic landscapes on the tape.
The album begins with an eponymous intro track which establishes key sonic and thematic elements that thread the narrative of the album together, opening with a choral declaration of intent that fills the atmosphere with this rousing expectation, anchored by a temperate piano line that crescendos into a solemn moment. A spoken word verse tucked toward the tail end of the intro furthers the anticipation by drizzling details of forthcoming journey and institutes Lagos – “this hot and funky town”- as the setting of Odunsi’s story.
The track that follows, falling, is an abrupt jump into the heart of the action of the narrative. The neo-soul inspired ballad features warbly and jazzy bass lines and snappy snares that coddle the synth-funk ballad. Odunsi’s vocals on this track are stacked, layered and filtered, mimicking a vocoder effect, very popular among early electronic producers in the late 70s and 80s. Blending with the sprinklings of buried synthesizers lines, the song becomes this futuristic slow jam that perfectly illustrates the spellbinding nature of falling in love. You are resigned to melody just as you are charmed by falling in love, almost helplessly. falling feels like a soundtrack hypnotizing you into some futuristic dream fantasy and a chunk of this album feels this same way.
Track 3, take me there is similarly dreamy in its production as it follows in the mellow funk tradition of the previous songs with a mild and sobering atmosphere that lulls the listener with the glistening instrumentation and beefs up the creamy landscape that has been built up so far on rare. divine, the lead single for this album, featuring afropop superstar Davido, feels more grounded and in place on this track listing as the bouncy songs is complimented by the overall mood of the record. The standout song on the album however, is take a break, as Odunsi produces a startling vocal performance on the bewitchingly beautiful song, with its temperate production featuring this elastic piano melody sandwiched between somber trap drums, almost negligible strings that flesh up the mood of the song all modulated by a filtered vocal sample that ties up the song. take a break illustrates the perfection Odunsi strives for in his craft as he shows off his talent in being able to match the atmosphere of his songs with the emotions he is feeling and subsequently broadcast that undistilled emotion to the listener.
On rare. listeners are peaking through a foggy lens and gaze at the melancholic dream reality Odunsi sculpts with music. You’re drawn into the vortex of nostalgic sounds where he performs open surgery on his relationships revealing the strength that comes from surviving unrequited love to the pressure of succeeding and the toll it takes on an artist’ metal health. The project grounds his artistry as key figure in the growing altè scene by the exposition of such bold stylistic choices on the record.
Indeed, this project could have benefited immensely from more nuanced storytelling or song structure whilst a lot of the cuts barely pass three minutes with the whole thing concluding in 36 minutes. However, this makes the moments more transient and even more cherished to the listeners. Additionally, the album is bookmarked with overlapping transitions with some of the records flowing into the next making, for a more cohesive and less interrupted listen; with the exception of a few where jump cuts are used to speed up the narrative.
From the sparkly album art to the loose yet compact sequencing of fragments of his life in the track listing, Odunsi has successfully managed to create a courageous body of work that is enriching at its coldest and blissful at its warmest. Some moments in music are so rare and candid that they are instantly unforgettable. With the right chemistry of honest naked emotions and measured portions of the bliss of nostalgia and the racy excitement of uncertainty, few artists are able to hypnotize listeners. On rare. Odunsi The Engine does just that.
Written by Hakeem Adam
Images: via Odunsi (Instagram)/ Jesse Navarre Vos