Contemporary Nigerian music witnessed a change of guard from one generation to the next the moment Wizkid’s Holla at your Boy announced him as the next big deal. Prior to that 2Baba, P-square and 9ice had been performing the role of building blocks for an industry that was rediscovering itself after years of dormancy.
It may not have been obvious back then but hindsight is 20/20.
However successful the Wizkid/Davido/Burna Boy years have been, things seem to have come full circle once again. With the likes of Rema, Joeboy, and Fireboy DML giving hot pursuit, it would seem that the future of pop music- Afrobeats if you may- is in good hands.
Make room for Omah Lay then.
Like Burna Boy, Omay Lay (born Stanley Omah Didia) was raised in the capital of Rivers state. Like Wizkid, he seems to have that vocal zip that can take a verse or chorus and energize it such that the rest of the country is soon singing along.
Try Bad Influence for instance, the standout track from his five-song ready-for-streaming debut EP, Get Layd. The song starts out innocuously enough with an alt-pop hesitation. Lay is moaning ever so gently about how he has been done dirty by a love interest. You put me for ambulance, he whines hinting of a total knock out. The song goes on like so for a while. At about the 1.17 mark, he raises the tempo with his voice as the primary tool and yells out a pathetic verse starting with the line Doctor said I burnt my liver/I’ve been drinking smoking cigars.
The writing is competent, so is the production, but it is Omah Lay’s striking vocal work that carries Bad Influence across the finish line and into star making territory.
But those who aren’t new to the gospel of Omah Lay have spoken of his talent for some time now. When asked to show proof, they point to the previously released You which is slotted in the middle of Get Layd. Over a pleasantly lazy beat that cannot quite decide if it is dancehall or pop, Omah Lay professes undying romantic love, the kind that has him expressing sweet nothings like You dey off my lantern.
They also point to his family history. Lay apparently has music in the genes as his grandfather, Adalolo, a percussionist reportedly once played in Celestine Ukwu’s highlife band in the sixties and seventies. His father also played drums at some point. Lay who sings, writes and produces music appears a more rounded manifestation of this family potential.
Record opener Damn is brightly drawn, with a spring in its step that only the young can manage. Lo Lo Lo is saved from forgettable status by a melodious guitar riff that reinforces the singer’s highlife bonafides. And the sexually explicit Ye Ye Ye departs from Burna Boy’s long-suffering exclamations, moving over to the naughty side where Omah Lay revels in quite cozily.
With these three new songs constituting the rest of the EP, Omah Lay makes a case to at least be taken seriously. His work isn’t quite there yet but what is unmistakable is the talent and the promise of more goodness to come.
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.