Music review: Timi Dakolo returns with a hustler’s anthem

by Wilfred Okichie

Some things are simply impossible to forget. Timi Dakolo’s stunner of a voice is one of them.

Viewers lucky enough to follow the first (and only) season of the Idols West Africa competition back in 2007 can most certainly never forget the feelings the scruffy, dark skinned citizen with roots in Nigeria and Ghana elicited every time he was called up to perform. That class of Idols was particularly strong, with talented superstars like Omawumi and J’odie, but Dakolo stood head and shoulders above the lot.

At the time, he lacked the total package. His performances were a bit too stagey and awkward but whenever he belted it out, it was instantly clear who the original Idol would be.

As pop Idols come and go, Dakolo’s life has not exactly been a smooth ride. The promised recording contract failed to materialize and for a while he floated around in upcoming artiste limbo. Then a random shooting incident in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers state left him wounded. The first album took a while but Beautiful Noise finally came and introduced the world to the result of his sizzling chemistry with super producer, Cobhams Asuquo.

His has been a rags to riches story.

Since then, Mr Dakolo has amassed a quietly impressive discography that includes scorchers like Heaven please (with MI) and last year’s bubble soaked Iyawo mi. In an era of quick fixes, microwave produced hit songs- madly popular today and barely decipherable tomorrow,- Dakolo has been that breath of fresh air. He has mined painful incidences from his past to produce beautiful pieces of music and remains committed to the socially conscious school of music where artistes are constantly inspired by their environment.

Dakolo has addressed his early struggles on his album opener, Let it shine, the ongoing Niger Delta angst- he hails from Bayelsa state- on the ballad, There’s a cry, but his piece de resistance perhaps, is his stirring vocal run on the flag waving anthem, Great nation. Unashamedly patriotic, Great nation became heavily courted among government circles and president Jonathan specifically asked Dakolo to join his entourage to the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos.

On his first single of 2015, coming off Love and consequences, his much teased sophomore album, Dakolo returns to his autobiographical beginnings, this time, zeroing in on the pre-Idol era when he, as a struggling young man with scarcely a penny to his name took the plunge and travelled the distance to compete at the music’s top levels.

Wish me well is vintage Dakolo, but it also vintage Cobhams, the result of a carefully controlled chemical reaction that has been years in the making. The overall sound is hard to strike down. It is pop definitely, but it is also country tinged, instantly recalling Lady Antebellum’s American Honey and bluesy, with elements of negro spiritual classics, thrown in for good measure.

It begins somberly with haunting background melodies that continue throughout the duration of the song, building to a momentous crescendo that stops short of happening at the moment most expected. Dakolo sings beautifully as usual and stretches his big, broad voice but this is one of his most restrained performances as he plays hard to stay within key and tempo. Even the moments of breaking loose and belting out are tightly regulated within the song’s compact structure.

He sings of a young man leaving home, torn between the love for family and the lure of the big city. The yearning for adventure and hunger to make something out of life wins out as he expresses himself to his mother, Goodbye mama/Please don’t cry/, I can’t stay, don’t ask me why. He continues, I heard about life/ life in the city/that’s where all dreams come true.

Tales of the migration from rural to urban areas in search of the golden fleece are as immemorial as time itself and Dakolo isn’t the first person to sing about such working man conditions. Everyday, thousands, perhaps millions of people make the journey to areas that present better opportunities than their homes, with nothing but a raw hunger and an iron willed determination to make something out of the hand dealt them by fate.

Not all of these stories end up happily but those who do continue to fuel the hope and perhaps, mirage that big cities are paved with gold. For Dakolo, the big city may have been welcoming eventually, but he passed through his fair share of strife and disappointment.

Wish me well may yet become the thinking man’s hustling anthem, with its inspiring story of a young black boy with a big voice and not much else going for him, going on to become the most recognisable voice on radio. And this by travelling the road less explored and doing music that means something to him and his audience.

It is both timely and timeless. Timely, in that it comes at a time where a number of Nigerians have had to return home from their bases in South Africa on account of xenophobic attacks caused by a spiteful monarch. Back home, the recently concluded elections also threw up some disturbing realities about the fates of migrants in the big city. But Dakolo’s powerful song speaks to the hope and humanity, possibilities and opportunity coexisting in the human being and possible only when they are allowed to thrive.

The timelessness of Wish me well is obvious enough, lying in its potential to become the working man’s anthem, many long years after Mr Dakolo’s sell by date has come and gone. For as long as human beings continue to struggle for a better life, and big cities continue to cast a spell, a simple, genuine, goodwill wish may make all the difference and spur a person to achieving their greater purpose.

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