Review: Idahams’ Melancholic Debut Album

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In his debut album, Truth, Love & Confessions, Idahams sings through an array of subjects: God, himself, his naysayers, Nigerian politics, heartbreak, love, lust, lust of the uncanny kind (as in the song Go Again, where he recounts a sexcapade with a much older and, as the song title suggests, tireless woman). He handles his subjects with unequal fluency, most moving when he sings about heartbreak and least convincing when he bemoans Nigeria’s political woes. Moving and unconvincing songs alike, they are each mildewed with melancholy, even those with the least melancholic concerns. It’s fitting that the album opens with the gospel-style Gratitude. The album sobers you up like a stern Sunday sermon.

Idahams’ stylistic choices lend the album its melancholy. His subdued singing, the eerie synths, the unhurried rhythms, and the overall minimalist production combine to put you in a reflective mood. Sometimes the melancholy is both apt and poignant, like in the song Hate That I Love, where Idahams features the Kenyan RnB singer Xenia Manasseh.

It is not only the album’s best song, it is also the album’s best collaboration. It stands out not so much for its storytelling as that it foregrounds the two sides of a lovers’ quarrel—most love songs by Nigerian male artistes tell you one side of the story, the male artiste’s side (and he is usually never in the wrong). The first few lines Idahams sings betray at once a melancholic subject. He pays his lover a surprise visit, but instead the visit surprises him—he catches a man atop his lover. Xenia, playing the deceitful lover, provides rationale for her infidelity: Her lover hasn’t quite been the model lover. When the song ends, you have empathized with both the wronged and the wrongdoer and you can’t pick a side. The listener’s indecision sums up the song’s emotional power.

In the two songs Idahams offers political commentary—Kpofire and Where I’m From—the melancholy is fitting: There are, after all, only a few cheery songs about Nigerian politics. A sad subject demands a sad song. But though the grim tone fits the subject, Idahams’ spin on it is hardly inventive. He lists familiar Nigerian problems in a language so generic it will struggle to excite a nerve. He is guilty of that which is severely rebuked in fiction workshops: telling, rather than showing. And because he merely lists political woes, the two songs bear no rewarding insights.

This descent into verbal clichés is why the album’s love songs—Lovina, Oyeh, Rapid Love, and Somebody’s Daughter—will suffer the fate of hurriedly crammed telephone numbers: the fate of spilling out of the cup of memory, of being forgotten. That the production in those songs sound similar makes them even less distinct.

Idahams’ melancholy isn’t always apt. Take the song Odeshi, for instance. Anyone who has watched the Nollywood movie Issakaba (2001), based on the real-life vigilante group The Bakassi Boys, knows members of the group wear odeshi as an amulet against gunshot wounds. Odeshi in Igbo means, “it will not leak”, as in “my blood will not leak”. Idahams uses odeshi as an analogy for how the Christian God shields him from evil doers. Buoyed by this divine security, Idahams delivers words of hubris in a chorus delivered in a charmingly off-key style by a children’s choir: “nothing wey fit enter/ anywhere they gather o/ they must surely scatter”. Although melodious, the song lacks a sound as joyfully assertive as the lyrics and theme demand. One wonders if the song won’t be the better for a quicker pace and jauntier percussion. 

Idahams shows a talent for playfulness in Che Che, a song with an equally playful title. He opens the song with a nifty epigram comprising a de-clichéd cliché: “No food for lazy man/ but no be for person wey him mama get bukka”. It won’t make you laugh, but it’s a moon-glint of mirth in the pervasive, shadowless darkness. The human spirit doesn’t have a limitless capacity for melancholy. Listeners will enjoy some of this album’s moodiness, but will, after a while, pine for sunlight.