Album review: Sonia Aimy's "Nigerian Spirit"

The voice of defiance

Intelligent, soulful and emotional, the new album by Canadian Nigerian musician Sonia Aimy, "Nigerian Spirit", addresses a broad spectrum of themes: from how life in Nigeria has changed since Aimy's childhood, the sorrow of life in Somalia, to a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the problems of finding a good husband. Review by Richard Marcus

At the heart of each and every song is Sonia Aimy's remarkable voice. She can belt out lyrics with all the power and style of American soul and gospel singer Aretha Franklin, yet has the delicate touch required to handle more sensitive topics. Remarkably, not only was "Nigerian Spirit" recorded in three countries, roughly half in Nigeria and the Benin Republic and half in Canada, but it involved almost two completely different bands made up of musicians from each location. I defy anyone to distinguish which band and which country was responsible for the various songs without looking at the liner notes.

Musically, the songs are a wonderful mix of styles and genres. There's something of everything: from traces of American soul to the wonderful jump sound of Nigerian pop music made famous in North America by artists like King Sunny Ade. In fact, the first song on the record, "Light My Way Mother", brought back memories of listening to Ade for the first time in the late 1970s. The song starts off with percussion, but then is joined by the full band in a joyous celebration of get-on-your-feet-and-dance music.

However, this is more than just a dance album; even when a song's rhythm is propelling you up onto your feet, its lyrics are giving you pause for thought. The disc's title song, "Nigerian Spirit", is a perfect example of this. While the lyrics are sung in a mixture of English and one of the languages of Nigeria, the meaning is made perfectly clear by the chorus. "When bokoharam them noh deh/corruption noh bocou/fake pastors juju priests noh deh/deceiving all my people/With spiritual confusion/Misleading all my people/with spiritual delusion".

Cover of Sonia Aimy's "Nigerian Spirit" (released by the artist)
A remarkable album: ″Nigerian Spirit″ strikes a balance between great music and thought-provoking lyrics. Though attuned to the suffering experienced by people in various countries of Africa, Sonia Aimy's voice remains one of defiance. Her music soars and dances, her voice rich with appeal, regardless of the language she's speaking or what she is singing about

The song recalls how when Aimy was a child, life was like a fairy tale, an age of innocence, before Nigeria became home to corruption, false preachers and ultimately the terrorist group Boko Haram.

From a government willing to sell its people and land off to oil companies in order to line its own pockets – using the army to silence anyone from political opponents to writers who dared speak against them – to the fanatics who kidnap young woman in order to prevent them from getting an education, the land where she came of age has fallen into worse and worse straits.

Souls lost in Lampedusa

With a heart seemingly big enough to feel and understand the pain and suffering of the whole of Africa, Aimy doesn't limit herself to singing about her own country.

The song "Lampedusa" is named for the Italian island where many refugees attempting the crossing from Northern Africa to Europe end up – for some it becomes a staging post on the path to a better life. Sung in Italian and English, it talks about how dreams of a better life in a new land are dashed by the hard reality of being a refugee. "Dreams buried in Lampedusa/Souls lost in Lampedusa/No flowers in Lampedusa/No prayers in Lampedusa".

While Aimy talks about the plight of refugees in general in "Lampedusa", in "A Dream For Somalia", she talks specifically about a country that has seen many of its people willing to risk the journey across the Mediterranean Sea in order to escape violence and civil war. The song is about more than just Somalia, however, it is about how this one country is symbolic of the problems besetting all of Africa. "I don't know why/We're living behind the world/Struggle to advance/Greediness in control/Struggle to advance/Egotism/In Control/Silence in Africa".

Yet "Nigerian Spirit" has more to offer than merely sad songs about Africa. Aimy also sings to encourage people to find a way out of the darkness and feel better about themselves. In "Voices of Orisa" (Orisa is one of the manifestations of the supreme divinity in the Yoruba religion), she tells those listening that "The power of healing is you/The power of like is you/In dreadful time and disharmony/Just reconnect to your innner-self/This is the voice of for your healing."

Aimy also proves she has a wicked sense of humour with the tongue-in-cheek number "Husband in Canada". The opening chorus introduces us to the problem, "I wan marry but I nor see good man/I wan marry but I nor see fine boy/Men weh I den se don marry/Boys whe I deh see na wahata." Sung in French, English and a Nigerian dialect, she then proceeds to list various countries she hasn't been able to find a husband in and decides "Where you deh go Canada/To look for my husband/to look for my bobo."

Reconnect to your inner self

A remarkable album in many ways, "Nigerian Spirit" manages to strike a balance between great music and thought-provoking lyrics. Though attuned to the suffering experienced by people in various countries of Africa, Sonia Aimy's voice remains one of defiance. She takes a stance against the corruption and hatred in her native Nigeria, both by reminding us how much better it used to be and also by recording part of the album in its capital city, Lagos.

Sonia Aimy is not just a wonderful singer, but a great songwriter to boot – all the songs on the album were written and produced by her. The music soars and dances, her voice rich with appeal, regardless of what language she's speaking or what she is singing about. Listening to this album, you may feel happy, angry and sad by turns, but I promise you won't be bored.

Richard Marcus

© Qantara.de 2017

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