He is on a journey all right, but it is one that does not lead anywhere just yet.
Flavour is many years removed from the underground scene where he used to set South Eastern dance clubs and bush bars afire with his heady brew of highlife melodies, hip beats and leering lyrics.
Even though he has since achieved crossover status and is as marketable nationally as any Lagos studio-produced pop star, Flavour still retains that Igbo boy core that keeps him attached to his roots no matter how far away from home his music takes him.
Flavour has travelled around the world marketing his sound and has garnered for himself, fans that transcend language, colour and ethnicity.
His entire career since the release of his third studio disc, the multi-selling, hit single minting, Blessed in 2012 has been a high wire balancing act. One that has stretched itself struggling to keep home-based fans happy while reinforcing the interest of the highlife naïve revellers who were attracted by the rolling waist, and the oiled pecs.
The album’s title is steeped in Igbo masquerade culture, where the Ijele is recognised as the largest and most ceremonial of them all.
Following the artistic disappointment of his fourth studio record, Thankful, Flavour retreated into the traditional cocoons that groomed his talent in the first place and came forth with a sub-genre of highlife which he dubbed ‘Une Soul’.
For the celebratory visuals directed by Clarence Peters (of course), the Ijele masquerade features prominently and the most impressive shots are those in which Flavour, bare chested and glistening with Igbo pride, goes toe to toe with Ijele in a dance off that is powerful, yet sensual.
By the time he made ‘Gbo Gan Gbom’, Flavour was playing catch up where he used to lead. While he was stuck making perfunctory duets with Chidinma and Yemi Alade, Zoro had snuck up and taken a rawer, more traditional sound and made it palatable enough to attract mainstream audiences.
Phyno promptly followed suit on his sophomore record, The Playmaker, covering the Oriental brothers on the love song, ‘Pino Pino’ and hooking up with Masterkraft to forge the monstrous, instantly arresting ‘Obiagu’.
‘Gbo Gan Gbam’ should have been the lead single for Ijele- The Traveler. In its conspicuous absence, the title record, holds the forth as stand in and reprise.
Zoro returns and Flavour mines popular playground chants set to some mellifluous Oja (flute) playing. Other serviceable highlife-lite tunes appear on ‘Simba’ and ‘Nekata’.
Masterkraft oversees the bulk of the project and incorporates the traditional instruments; drums, ogene, ekwe but just before you are about to entertain the thought that Flavour is finally making the pure highlife record he was born to make, he capitulates and dilutes the punch. Everyone has to be satisfied.
Ijele- The Traveler opens weirdly enough with the piano soaked ‘Virtuous Woman’, a ballad that is as cheesy as the title. It dresses itself up as Flavour showing off his singing chops but it is really just a remake of ‘Golibe’ from the Thankful album, itself a remake of ‘Ada Ada’ from the Blessed record.
On the ballad, Flavour describes his ideal woman with banal platitudes in both English (woman of substance), and Igbo (Ezi nwaanyi di uko).
‘Virtuous Woman’ is indicative of the direction(s) Flavour wants to go with the rest of the record. ‘For the Sake of Love’ is one of those duets that marries the talents of the two performers – in this case, Flavour and Ghana’s Sarkodie – so seamlessly that they seem made for the other. The song feels not at all like a keeping-up-with-the-trends calculated ploy even when it is.
Flavour then allows Tekno’s gifted hands to slow things up a notch on ‘Catch You’, just like he’s done on hits by Davido and Mr Eazi of recent. Catch You comes armed with Tekno-ish lyrics like, ‘If I catch you/I go chop you like carrot oh!’ and a Fela Kuti inspired line – ‘She go say she be baby/We no go call am woman oh.’
There are attempts to recapture heights already attained as in ‘Baby na Yoka’, which goes for a dancehall vibe but steals elements from ‘Baby Oku’ and ‘Jaiye’, which mirrors the decadent rumble of ‘Shake’.
The next big Flavour hit is sure to come from one of these three singles. While they are all competent and pleasant enough, they still come across as replicas.
If at times, Ijele –The Traveler plays like a record made in a hurry, it is because of songs like ‘Chimamanda’, a feel good church tune that appropriates popular gospel choruses and devolves into praise singing nonsense. Nevertheless, it is the type of record that will be on everybody’s lips from East to West.
‘Iheneme’, (with Chidinma) is unremarkable and ‘Body Calling’, the misbegotten attempt at American style trap music achieves the dishonour of wasting a Terry Apala feature.
On Ijele- The Traveler, Flavour is on a journey all right, but it is one that does not lead anywhere just yet. Five studio albums into his career and the man is still carried away by gimmicks, content with following where he should be leading.
He may call his record all the fancy titles he can come up with but the content proves he is merely paying the price of commercial success.
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