Review: Inestimable’s “Listen to Music” is a Neat Trick of Ventriloquism

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The quintet behind this album are as follows: EOD, Didi, Fosa, Neked, and JordanStyls. Some of them sing; some of them rap; all of them have a story to tell, which in this album they manage to do in one oft-laidback voice. This five-person, one-voice performance is a neat ventriloquist trick— the individuals sacrifice their identities for the sake of the communal cause. The effect in this album: a symphony of intentions and an unobtrusive chimera.

Goaded on by beats that alternate between slow- to mid-tempo, this quintet isn’t looking to inspire an all-out dance. A philosophical head-bob from a self-satisfied armchair position, most likely.

Album-making, like soul-searching or lawn tennis, is often a solo act. So let us, first and foremost, appreciate the difficulty of five musicians banding up to make one. That’s five different, possibly at odds, personal histories, perspectives, biases, and egos, that must agree or, in some cases, agree to disagree on certain points during the creative process. One of these points may be the thematic direction. One artiste may want a track oozing with melancholy; another may insist on joie de vivre. Yet, the creative group Inestimable manages to overcome the messiness of group work and cobble together this eight-track debut album, Listen to the Music.

The definite article in the album’s title leaves no ambiguity about which music is being referred to. It is Inestimable’s music. The album title’s imperial tone, too, tells you to ready your ears for more marching orders. That’s not to be. In fact, it only makes prescriptions in two tracks, in No Wasting Time and the titular Listen to the Music. In both numbers, it charges you to remain inspired even when life is at its most colorless. Guess who else makes such a charge? The clergymen species — the local parish priest, the imam, the rabbi. The only difference is while the priest will recommend that you finger rosary beads in prayer, this quintet tee up music as a reliable handhold in resisting life’s headwinds. Listen to the music — it seems like they now mean all kinds of music, not just theirs — to both survive and ennoble life, they say.

 

Football and women, where two or more men are gathered, are bound to be talked about. It’s the latter that gets the thumbs-up here. Twice, too. First in Superwoman, then in Ole. In the first song, some subtle eroticisms bandied around, there’s a two-pronged entreaty to an unnamed woman, which is one part a panegyric and one part a plea — the singing men beg said woman to accept them as a lover.  

In the other song, the woman is given a name, Shalewa — a placeholder in Nigerian pop music, often tacked on to sexual innuendo, say “Shalewa / sare wa gba” — only this time there’s no panegyric. Only raw sexual angst. Shalewa is something of a coquette, a pouting belle, like Marilyn Monroe — the American actress is name-dropped in another song — and despite that the men claim to have bought her the world, she refuses to abide by that societally plotted plotline in which men announce their love and lust in banknotes, and women, at the receiving end of that conditional kindness, show appreciation by showing skin. Shalewa insists on keeping her clothes on. The song’s title, Ole, is the Yoruba expression for a difficult situation. But retaining the letters and altering the phonemes will change its meaning to thief. As in, Shalewa, the thief of pleasure. Or thief in the Nigerian sense that she has “chop the guy’s money” and given nothing in return. So frustrated are the men that one of them sings, “so ra fun obinrin” (beware of women). Truly, Hell hath no fury like a blue-balled man. It might be a man’s world, as the singer James Brown said long, long ago, but in that private world of sex, it’s women who referee the game.

It’s not just women that the all-boys group has a hot-cold relationship with. They have something of the sort with the city of Lagos. They chastise it in one song, then hail it in another. In Jungle, whose hook channels that 1998 Daddy Showkey showpiece, Fire Fire, the city is likened to a wild, fiery place, where, among other unflattering things, civilization grounds to a halt, quite literally and with daily frequency, in its infamous traffic jams. Whereas Showkey’s Fire Fire is of the fire-brand variety, praying down fire on those by whose actions and inactions the nation has failed to progress, Inestimable is a pacifist tribe. They give a documentary on how Lagos is Hell, but do not wish Hell on those who have made it so. 

In First Flight to Lagos, where some autobiographical truths come to light, they have kinder things to say about the city, acknowledging it as a place where dreams, say ambitions of a lofty music career, come to fruition.

Here’s an album that retains a personal touch, though it took a community to create it. Five persons become one mind, and take you on a tour of their cultural home (Lagos), their hot-cold relationship with women, and their vanities. It’s not a very exciting journey. There are no sudden detours. And sometimes it’s borderline monotonous, as no stylistic grounds — sonic, lyrical, or thematic — are broken. Yet, it is a decent debut. Is it worthy of a second listen? You be the judge. Why not Listen to the Music?

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