“Make the voice sound like say e get belle”, Omawumi instructed the backup singers at coke studio Africa. The singers were puzzled, initially not understanding what Omawumi meant by belle (pregnant), then how to make their voices sound like it had belle. The rehearsal was in preparation for a stripped down rendition of Omawumi’s debut single, ‘In The Music’. Some minutes later, with the assistance of Mozambican singer, José Valdemiro, the performance was debuted. That was in 2014 and that video has since been wiped off the coke studio YouTube page. But like me, if you ever saw it, it would remain etched to your memory.
The backup singers did finally understand Omawumi’s vision and ran graciously with it. Omawumi cooed magically throughout that short show combined with a radiant smile, in a lilting performance that could melt a rock and also calm a storm. It wasn’t an unusual show of singing pyrotechnics by Omawumi, ever since her days as a contestant and subsequently emerging as the runner-up at the west African idol in 2007, her voice always had its charm.
Since her emergence, Omawumi has maintained her relevance due to an ease in adapting to varying sonic directions, ranging from soulful deep cuts to straightforward afro-pop songs to anything in between. On full length projects, Omawumi’s range and versatility, though intriguing comes off somewhat disparate and scattered. It had to do with production choices and track sequencing. Better focus on these aspects is what makes her new album, Timeless her best and most riveting body of work yet.
Enlisting music virtuoso and master producer, Cobhams Asuquo as the album’s main coconspirator was Omawumi’s best move. In his usual display of masterful flair, Cobhams’ instrumental arrangements and work as co-songwriter stitches Timeless together with very little seams sticking out. Timeless is an album steeped in vintage sounds, cutting across jazz, neo-soul, blues, afro-pop and reggae without pulsing grossly erratically. The album’s second half especially prances around various sonic textures, and it is well held together by Omawumi’s versatile voice.
The best example of the belle voice shows up on the funky disco swing of ‘Somtin‘. A song about the freedom to love anyone, Omawumi’s bellows her preaching over an tight beat that sounds like it was beamed from the ‘80s and polished up for a 2017 house party. The hook buys into the popular pidgin adage, “somtin no fine, him mama like am so leave matter for somtin”. The type of old, common sayings that Omawumi gives life and extra meaning with the aunt guile in which she sings them.
The album opener, ‘Play Na Play‘ revels in adages – including a wise crack at white people and horror movies – to transfer its message of caution. It features the legendary Angelique Kidjo, who sprinkles flavor with her robust singing style. Both voices sync in harmony on a levitating, repetitive bridge near the end of the song. Another African music legend features on Timeless is Salif Keita on ‘Africa’. Uhuru also joins on the joyful ode to the motherland which is a remake of Salif’s track of the same title. The track bursts with verve due to the incorporation of South African house elements.
Even though the album title initially comes across as cliché, Timeless justifies itself in musical and lyrical content. At 49 minutes in length, it is long enough to revel in all of Omawumi’s vocal glory and relatable quips. But it is also brisk enough to avoid feeling long winded. Only time will fully quantize the quality of Timeless, but it already sounds like it’s off to a great start.
Writer’s Rating: 4.3/5
Words by Dennis (@ayo_dennis).