Jovial. The word that comes to mind while watching the video for Davina Oriakhi’s ‘F.S.L.S’. Scenes from the video are bathed in the sun’s natural light with Davina smiling gleefully and even tearing out some dance moves. At some points in the video, the camera angles pull the viewer in as an accomplice, like being outdoors with a friend and genuinely having a good time.
A friend’s recommendation of Okunlola Likkle’s Wrappa EP was my introduction to UK-based Nigerian singer-songwriter and poet, Davina Oriakhi. Davina has a spoken word feature on one of the EP’s tracks, ‘The WinD’. The avalanche of instrumentals on ‘The WinD’ is smoothed out just before Davina starts speaking. Her voice, easy and fragile but deliberate, speaks of insecurities and being comfortable in the bareness of your own skin regardless. For days, I returned to that song for that piece of poetry (I still do). Sure, the poem is spectacular but the way the voice behind the lines pronounced each word was half the charm – like an audio equivalent of watching a master penman write each letter out with a quill.
A few weeks after I was put on to ‘The WinD’, Davina’s ‘F.S.L.S’ got reposted to my SoundCloud feed by an account I don’t remember. Somehow, I hadn’t tried to search for her on SoundCloud, but that serendipitous event gave me the chance to listen to her own music and ‘F.S.L.S’ doubled on the initial charm.
Davina recently released her debut album last Friday (July 28), Love To A Mortal. At 9 songs and clocking in at just under half an hour, LTAM is an expressive and expansive ride worth taking multiple times. There’s joy, pain, lust, depression, self loathe and forgiveness, on the way to inner peace and self love. It is a deeply personal project, chock full of relatable anecdotes supported by vivid emotional stories and quips. All written with majestic flair.
Davina moved back to the U.K in august 2014, starting a masters degree shortly after in Media and Communications. With modules of the program including celebrity culture, Feminism, Crime, Media Justice, and a final dissertation based mostly on race, hip-hop culture and feminism, Davina became a voracious reader. It was during this period that what she describes as “a very steady and sure mental shift” started to occur. “I started transitioning my hair, I eventually started growing my locs. I started to write more poetry and search out for black female poets. I started being very picky with the music I indulge in, so you can imagine, what that did to my songwriting”, she explains via email.
Davina would write a song during that period titled ‘Mr Society’. Even though she expressed some reservations about the song’s qualities, she deems it “a very memorable piece to me because it was actually me making a statement of my individuality and revolt against beauty standards and societal norms”. A crossroad appeared during a research, where black politics, race and culture met religion. It was at this point that she became more aware of spirituality over religion. An ethos that she has maintained ever since and that is inherently displayed on Love To A Mortal.
The objective of her debut album lies in the first word of its title – Love. A search and acceptance for genuine love on important levels is what qualifies LTAM as an ultimately spiritual journey. A bible verse about the characteristics of love (1 Cor. 13:4) are the first lyrics to be sung on the album opener, ‘It’s All About Love’. Davina sings wistfully of accepting love in its divine nature without reservations and letting it “heal you for the better”. It is a mellow tone setter for the album and everything about the track bristles with ease.
The reggae bounce influenced ‘Silence (Father Have Mercy)’ was released earlier this year as the album’s lead single. On its own, ‘Silence’ is a powerfully sobering song seeking forgiveness. More gravitas is added to those wrenching lyrics in the context of LTAM, due to the chilling nature of the preceding poem – ‘Before The Silence’. Depression shows up (“depression dressed in the prettiest disguise”) and dejection due to feeling severed from God also peeks out on ‘Before The Silence’.
Forgiveness from the divine requires acknowledging that it is always available, and all you have to do is ask. “No matter the mess I made for myself, or the sin I gave into, or the depression I fell into, Love (God) still valued me enough to want me back, and so He didn’t give up on me. I just had to learn to value myself as well. That’s what brought the reconciliation and peace back”, Davina explains. The peace that comes with forgiveness is how to describe the aura of ‘W.S.T (Fight The Good Fight)’.The ethereal calm of ‘W.S.T’ isthe transition point on LTAM towards love. The track title itself is an acronym for ‘Water Spirit Truth’, all symbols of purity in the Christian faith.
Even if you don’t share the beliefs on which Davina bases her journey, the genuine thoughts they inspire count as universal. Embracing and presenting a path of spiritual growth doesn’t insinuate perfection, there’s no such thing as an infallible mortal. While parts of LTAM feel pristine, the flaws aren’t eschewed, in fact they are accepted. ‘These Feelings’ is a jazzy, colorful, freewheeling song that revels in the normalcy of experiencing various feelings – love and lust. Elegance matches fun in the production and Davina joins in with an expressive, snappy fervor in her vocals. ‘These Feelings’ is giddy, with horns squealing joyfully and some impressive vocal scatting.
The glowing a Capella track, ‘Moonshine’ is Davina’s testimony to all round self acceptance, “everyone’s taken so I choose me”. It also adds impetus to the bright message of positivity of ‘F.S.L.S’. Besides, what good would it do if the person telling us to love ourselves didn’t love themselves? “Let (Us all) Others Value Each other” is Davina’s full meaning when LOVE is taken as an acronym. Her sentiments become clearer and more potent with her follow-up statement – “I think if you replace the word ‘Love’ with the word ‘Value’ and teach people to value each other, the world will be a much better place.”
The fact that she was recording an album didn’t fully dawn on Davina until she recorded ‘Silence (Father Have Mercy)’ in October last year. “My journey in a true spiritual relationship with God birthed melodies and songs and poems and I didn’t realize at the time back in 2015 that I was writing an LP”, she says. Looking through her drafts, she realized how beautifully connected her thoughts were, events she believes were predestined ultimately led to her debut album. With ‘F.S.L.S’ being the final song for the album to be recorded for the album in February.
Love To A Mortal is boldly vulnerable, firmly reassuring and uplifting and also pithy. From a purely musical standpoint, no flaws will gnaw at you. Even in its relatively short span, it travels at a perfect pace, opening itself up to various musical options. Ranging from balladeer’s pop to hard swinging jazz to neo-soul to reggae to soft percussive afro-soul and tonally expressive spoken word.
It’s less of exhaustive genre hopping and more of sliding easily into various genres to create a cohesive project in which Davina struts around gracefully and wispily. A credit to the talents of the coconspirators she enlists on LTAM. Radjerton ‘Gabriel Ryder’ Agolli, Nobong D’Synth (currently one of my favorite producers) and Damilola ‘The Chordinator’ Ayeni all lend a hand with production duties, creating impressionable textures set to the album’s themes.
Great songs meet at the crossroads of making you feel and perfection execution. Love To A Mortal is filled with the great songs. Listen to Davina Oriakhi.
Love To A Mortal is on all streaming platforms (SoundCloud link is embedded below).
[Words by Dennis, aka Penman Dennis, aka @ayo_dennis]