Humans love descriptors. They make life easy and help with decluttering otherwise complex or diverse concepts. Nowhere are descriptors more in use than in music, the sheer range of sonic abilities and deviations begs the use of solid descriptors. That is why we use instantly recognisable terms to classify our favourite artistes: Wizkid and Davido, afro-pop; Timaya, dancehall; Burna Boy, afro-fusion.
Descriptors can be fun. They can be concrete declarations of artistic routes – think Daddy Showkey and you get a picture of valiant Galala music – and these routes or genres often lead to ironclad expectations akin to a box from fans.
Making anything that diverges from the familiar sounds that fans recognise as your signature is bound to raise questions or, sometimes, attract criticism. And amidst the praise and acclaim that have met singer Simi‘s latest album, Omo Charlie Champagne Vol. 1, there have been questions and curious bewilderment about the direction of the project, and I think I know why.
Simi is one of the most truly recognisable Nigerian singers, mixing goofy, colourful street lingo with an ability to make beautiful love songs. Her biggest songs – Tiff, Jamb Question, and Joromi – are reflective of this capacity. Several of her sleeper hit songs have also probed love from diverse angles, perfectly blending her repertoire of street-savvy in-talk and the regal voice she possesses.
In the weeks leading up Simi releasing Omo Charlie Champagne Vol. 1, fans keen for some knowledge asked what they might expect from the project. In several ways, she urged them to simply enjoy her album and asked that they not overthink it, promising a grand music experience.
But for certain reasons, Simi fans familiar with the grand ballads that filled her last album can’t reconcile the Simi of Simisola with the one who released OCC.
OCC opens with Simi making an emotive dedication to her late father. She sings about loss – her loss – and walking down the aisle without saying goodbye to him. On the track, Charlie, she uses her lovely voice as paint, creating a lush, vibrant masterpiece in tribute to her deceased father, a masterpiece as simple as it is memorable, beckoning listeners to listen and listen all over again, drowning in its lyrics and her mournful voice.
On the duet with husband Adekunle Gold, By You, the couple sing earnestly about the permanence of love and, more significantly, promise to stand by each other until the end of time. On the next song and my personal favourite, Jericho, a collaboration with Patoranking, Simi lays down a marker for the innovative air about the album. She perfectly intersects her music with drum-heavy beats that accept the patois of Patoranking, leaving space for him to weave his epicurean magic, and it is only up from there.
By the mid-point of the album, she leaves the murkiness of loss and romance to sing unabashedly about sexuality in teasing up-tempo manner on tracks such as Lovin, Love on Me, and Immortal.
It is clear at this point on the album that the spectrum of vibes on OCC is wide-ranging and goes beyond the somewhat linear content found on Simisola. Simi is aware of the urge to create in certain styles, and addresses that artistic pressure on The Artist, reminding that, above all, the artist must be true to self for the art to flow unimpeded.
In conversation with friends about OCC, it is hard to escape the feeling that if asked to choose by random strangers on the street what variation of Simi they would go with, there will be little doubt in their minds. I find hints in how they replay songs like Please, By You and Move On from the new album and hold them up as proof of ‘Vintage Simi,’ arguing the merits of how they interplay with songs like Complete Me and Smile for Me from Simisola.
Funny, it is the same impulse shared by the person in whose company I first listened to OCC; after a few tracks had played, he had said to me: “Wetin Simi dey sing na? No be so her former album be.” Both experiences reinforce my opinion about the human aversion to change, the construction of a boundary from which artistes should not travel far, and it is a notion that Simi challenges so deftly.
On OCC, Simi’s song-writing is difficult to classify because it refuses to follow a single structure, and more impressively, the dominant picture expected of her. But what makes the album standout for me is the centrality of Simisola the person, above Simi the artiste, which she puts on display throughout her album.
Listening to the songs, there is no single side of Simi to hold on to. It’s like a living, breathing monument to artistic metamorphosis and elevation, always guided by the calming velveteen voice. Never wavering from the journey to self, it is ironically fitting that from a self-confessed private person, her most personal work also provides an existential opposite. OCC is many things at once: a rejection of standing still here, some dances there, and a showcase of depth touching on themes of acute loss, sexuality, mild eroticism and goofiness.
The album also provides radio-friendly single, Mind Your Bizness, where Simi taps regular collaborator, Falz, and leaning on her mastery of slang and a witty verse from the Talk singer, they dissect nosiness and idle talk in our increasingly sensationalist world. On this particular track, she displays the timely ability to still make hit music, but that’s not the dominant purpose of OCC.
The takeaway from the project is the delight that comes from engaging with music that stimulates. It depicts a commitment to artistic evolution that is sometimes uncomfortable, because it takes us out of familiar places, but nonetheless leaves us stunned in range and execution. And that’s what the creator is all about; that’s all she ever asked. Enjoy the music without overthinking it.
June 23, 2019 – I’m thinking of dropping this piece and leaving it incomplete when I see a tweet from Simi. In it, she acknowledges the dissenting, albeit minority voices that aren’t feeling OCC. She says: “I honestly kinna feel bad for those that are not feeling the ‘Omo Charlie Champagne’ album. Like I listen to it like someone else made it. And it’s lit. And I have great taste.”
I will be the first to admit that on OCC, the path isn’t always straight. There’s so much to unpack in this body of work that takes us farther away from the Simi we recognise, but it is not a bad thing.
The album as a whole and in parts is a mark of amelioration, of Simi caring enough about her fans to bring them in on another plane of who she is and reflecting that care in her music, in her evolution. So when you ask or think: Why this kind of music? Why is she experimenting? Wetin Simi dey sing for Omo Charlie Champagne? This is not the Simi I recognise. Know that she trusts you to evolve on this journey with her, and if you believe in her work and listen well enough, you will understand too.