Art is not for everybody and neither is Brymo.
Ai f’eni pe’ni, ai f’eyan pe’yan; lo je ki ara oko san bante wo’lu. It is impudence that makes a country dweller travel to the city wearing only a loincloth- Yoruba proverb.
Brymo‘s lack of respect for status quo is well known. With three years on his contract with Chocolate City, he simply refused to work with the label anymore. It takes a level of bullheadedness to attempt to storm out of an unfavourable contract that way- this wasn’t a case of Alexis Sanchez and Arsenal; it was akin to Peter Odemwingie deciding that he no longer wanted to play for West Brom and drive to Queen Park Rangers without an agreement in place. Like his label Audu Maikori said at the time, it was sad Brymo’s career would end that way. As a lawyer, Maikori and Choc City held all the aces and boy did they play them! A court injunction barred Brymo from making or distributing any music outside of his contract with the label. For nearly two years, the case was in court until a judge lifted the restraint and told Brymo he was free to go. Four years later, Brymo has no cause to complain. He has a healthy fan base and he is unencumbered by the terms of being signed to a record label.
Since then he has released four albums: Merchant, Dealers and Slaves; Tabularasa, Klitoris and only yesterday, Oso. Whatever Brymo lacked in company structure, A&R, and a well-oiled PR machinery, he made up for by being himself.
That ‘self’ has attracted praise and criticism in almost equal measure- Brymo’s discography hasn’t been too shabby; with songs like Alajo Shomolu, 1 Pound, Je Le Osinmi- he has delivered quality sounds. Bordering on afro-soul with influences of Afrobeat, it is remarkable that he hasn’t pandered to the more popular pop genre. However, with outrageous titles such as Klitoris, Prick No Get Shoulder and statements such as ‘I’m the greatest Nigerian musician alive’, one begins to question the level of this his self-described genius- and sometimes his sanity.
Cue the newly released ‘Heya’, the lead single of his album Oso. Brymo obviously courted controversy by appearing almost nude, save for a leather loincloth that covered his genitalia but did nothing to hide his bare buttocks. No sooner than the images surfaced online did Nigerians start to express shock at the audacity of this ‘art’. Uncalled for, some said while others called him an attention seeker. ‘Why is Brymo wearing a g-string?’
Art by its nature is subjective: people will have different opinions about it. But beyond the obvious shock factor of it, Heya bears the hallmark of carefully considered art, even if the execution leaves more to be desired. Emerging from the dark waters of the Lagos lagoon and proceeding to a patch of some abandoned construction underneath the Third Mainland Bridge, Brymo’s approach to the piano is well captured. It makes no bones about the simplicity of the man who in search of himself and his truth- the music. And when he flips the white fabric covering the piano with one hand like a Spanish matador, you expect to be blown away by incoming vocals. When he goes ‘E-very body say dem dey go their way…’, the guttural tone he commences with does not match the soft chords he plays. Yet it is that juxtaposition that makes Brymo unique.
The song touches on societal values in the first verse, unrequited love in the second and in verse three, he sings about his own stubbornness and impudence, letting listeners into his quest for fulfilment by being free, free of material trappings. In that verse, he justifies the sparse, minimalist nature of the video. And no, that’s not a thong: it is a bante– a loincloth worn by Brymo’s forefathers back when they were fishing in the rivers and creeks of Yorubaland, before colonialism and assimilation of modern culture.
In this video, Brymo further shows why he cannot conform to the establishment’s standards. It is stark and without glamorous filters. His body is not model-like nor his face pretty. He’s not like say, Darey who carefully composed his unclad shoot for his album cover for Naked or Orezi‘s PornHub version. His is nakedness, not nudity.
His vulnerability as a lone man by the waters mirrors his ‘lone voice in the wilderness’ approach to the music business. It has worked for him in the past and it still is.
Art is not for everybody and neither is Brymo. But in the coming years, his would be one of the most successful careers in the history of modern Nigerian music. Thankfully, he appears not to care for the public’s validation and will continue to push the envelope.
That, brothers and sisters, is a characteristic of greatness- even if Brymo is just nearing his.
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