There’s beauty in an artist taking the backseat and letting their sound mature alongside them. A spiritual man, Nigeria-born and raised Obongjayar nervelessly allows his message to latch onto whichever sound arrives first. From the dusky boombap tales creeping up from the London cityscape onto his SoundCloud back in 2016, to the Afro-influenced art-pop sounds of debut album ‘Some Nights I Dream of Doors’, Obongjayar continues to deliver with a razor-sharp focus that embraces his experimental nature.
With ‘Some Nights I Dream of Doors’, Obongjayar delivers his most fleshed out, cohesive project to date. This doesn’t mean that he has settled on a definitive sound. Indeed, any attempt to bind the album to his previous works, or wider stylistic movements would be futile. Album opener, ‘Try’, packed with blips and licks, showcases the different musical identities he is able to to rotate between. His airy falsetto swoons and soothes, before his trademark husky vocal crashes through. "Concrete on my face, I don’t smile no more", is a guttural reminder of the trials that influence Obongjayar’s brooding thoughts.
Born into the tropics of Nigeria’s Cross River State, before making his way to London at the cusp of adulthood, Obongjayar’s fluid experiences of the world shine through his artistry. And whilst he shares the same liquid approach to genre as his young outward-looking compatriots of the Alté movement, the ‘Sugar’ singer’s emphasis on shaping the feeling through his words is more reminiscent of Lagbaja’s lyrical prowess.
Take pulsating single ‘Message in a Hammer’ for example. The protest-driven offering, provoked by the state corruption and brutality of the SARS Nigerian Police Force, takes the political musings of Fela Kuti’s afrobeat and blends with wurling synths and throbbing industrial grooves. As he calls out officials by their station, Obongjayar’s rage is measured as much as it is anthemic.
"I won’t say please, oh, we fight fire with fire…"
‘Some Nights I Dream Of Doors’ contains some of Obongjayar’s most emotionally-relatable work thus far. ‘Wrong For It’ is a warming cut, filled with positive affirmations meshed with swirling keys and syncopated percussion. On ‘New Man’ he reveals he is "chasing perfection with no room for error" before breaking out into a hard-hitting trap section, proclaiming "now I know myself, I am full of wonder" over militant snares. ‘Tinko Tinko’ a standout Afropop cut, draws from the same nostalgic palette his 2021 ‘Sweetness’ EP with Sarz boasted. Obongjayar's previous work has often been abstract in both lyricism and musicality, but in dealing with the tangible here, he sounds more accessible than ever before.
What remains throughout this solid debut is Obongjayar’s characteristically poetic flair. "I took my pain and turned it into sugar", he celebrates on ‘Sugar’. "You do all the eating, we do the heavy lifting’" aims a not-so-subtle dig at the powers that be on ‘Parasite’. The rawness to his vocals add grit to a sound definitely polished, but not sanitised. ‘Some Nights I Dream of Doors’ may shed the crudity that helped build intrigue around Obongjayar, but there’s enough here to excite the faithfuls and attract new members to ‘OB Dream Corp’.
Words: Sona Ososami
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