BY TONI KAN
Ajo takes you on a musical journey and it is a journey that goes all the way from Nigeria, as Yinka Akanbi sings, “to London to see the Queen.”
The sound is old yet new, evincing the very best of the masters from Victor Olaiya to IK Dairo, early Ebenezer Obey and Sunny Ade to the more contemporary vibes of Lagbaja and Buga. But where Buga is boisterous and effervescent, Ajo is mellow, mature and mellifluous.
Ajo is a journey of discovery in which one encounters a new Yinka Akanbi who has morphed from the well-known actor and movie director into a singer belting out amazing tunes and ditties.
He goes a step further to display amazing versatility as writer and producer of all 10 songs on the album.
His voice, which is surprisingly strong and crisp (not so surprising though when you consider his training as a thespian) comes across sometimes as a hybrid between Shina Peters and Sunny Ade flowing smoothly over clean beats and the first feeling that is evoked from listening to Ajo is nostalgia, déjà vu almost. There is that sense of having been here before or to put it better, having listened to this before.
It is full bodied music with a sound that is clearly distinct, something clearly old yet very new, an alchemy of sounds spun from antiquity and contemporaneity. Listening to Ajo is like taking an aural musical history which manages to transpose the past into the present.
It is a mix of old and new without either standing in the way of the other.
The album picks up with gusto from Track 2, a veritable tale of two Yinkas as Yinka Akanbi is joined by soul diva Yinka Davies on a song that is dripping with influences from Yoruba songs to Jazz and 80s RnB. The opening sequence with the guitar strings and all evokes nostalgia for the rich 70s sounds of Ofege and BLO.
Track 3 opens with a folkloric vibe and then quickly acquires an operatic ascent with Yinka Akanbi and his back-up singer(s) playing a game of Yoruba language tango.
The talking drums that herald track No. 4 leave you in no doubt as to the provenance of the music you are about to hear even before the female voice that wafts into your ears begins to sing in Yoruba. This is a heavily percussive number that would move the ladies to the dance floor waists and backsides wriggling in tune to the music.
Track 5 contains title track Ajo and opens with thumping tom toms and a curious question that references the name of the singer: “Ore mi Yinka Akanbi ni bo lo nlo?
And so begins a recounting of his journeys and the places he has been to from Sokoto to Kaduna, Portharcourt to Aba and then “I have been to London to see the Queen. Ajo o, Ajo o, Ajo o Ajo o.”
This song should be the soundtrack to the life of every wayfarer because buried at the core of this song is both longing for the open road and home sickness for the hearth.
The song ends as a tribute to the many people Yinka Akanbi has encountered on his journey through life from Femi Odugbemi to Tunde Kelani, Hafiz Oyetoro to Jahman Anikulapo, Antar Laniyan to Yemi Sodimu, Tina Mba to his wife, Bolanle Sani, and many more.
Track 6 is both invocation and benediction to his ‘Guardian Angel’ of sorts to not put him to shame. It is a mid-tempo groove that as you listen to you can imagine a dance floor packed with people dancing and holding their heads in their hands and then pointing to the sky.
Track 8 is another dance number that will have you dancing but as you dance listen for the guitar and horn interlude which riffs on afrobeat and recalls Lagbaja’s Coolu Temper.
Ajo is an album bursting with influences and dripping with nostalgia but the magic is in Yinka Akanbi manages not to sound like a smorgasbord of other people’s sound. Ajo is his and his alone. Influences be damned.