Yela isn’t trying to conquer the world, but tries to make sense of it with his music. His sophomore album Existence Resistance, out Friday, has a charmed quality that the 32-year-old singer has been polishing since releasing his debut EP Gidi and the Undertow in 2016 and then 2018’s Folabi, a fuller body of work.
Born in Lagos as Afolabi Aiyela, Yela belongs to the MTV generation, groomed on a diet of disco and RnB influences which can be sufficiently gleaned from the shimmering Fickle and the heady, luminous Sunny Side Up, both tracks from Folabi. Between 2018 and now, Yela’s songs have been used as soundtrack on Nollywood movies (Banana Island Ghost, Honey Sweet Stuff, Guyn Man), TV shows (Skinny Girl in Transit, Phases) and he’s been an opening act for Kizz Daniel and scored major performances.
The effects of the coronavirus pandemic disrupting world affairs can still be felt, but it still hasn’t hindered cultural productivity in Nigeria. If anything, artistes have negotiated around it to create albums and small projects.
”I recorded the album just after the lockdown when there was still a bit of restrictions but I literally recorded it in my producers room for 3 months,” Yela says. ”I worked with my previous collaborator ”MonLee” on three of the songs but this time I wanted to work on the majority of the album with an artist I met on Instagram and we became fast friends and fans of each others work. His name is “Raldie Young”. Such a gifted and open minded artist and producer and that’s what I needed as I like to throw thing at the wall to see the glorious mess we come up with and he was down for the ride 1000%.”
Existence Resistance isn’t like Folabi, in that it takes on a sociopolitical consciousness. Singles like Anti-Social, Cake and Wonder Woman have things to say about the human condition, exploring the large, liberal concepts of identity, national revolution, and feminism.
It’s from ”our existence is our resistance,” Yela explains the album title, ”I kept on hearing it in a lot of conversations especially in 2020, concerning the Black Lives Matter movements as well as the End SARS movements. Unconsciously, I was writing songs documenting how topsy turvy the year turned out to be, with the pandemic, the human rights issues and long distance love, found and lost within the year. Our still being here, no matter what life throws at us, is the ultimate f*** you or Resistance if you will.
Yela is at his most vulnerable on Existence Resistance, but he’s also bold. As an RnB fusion artiste, Yela’s voice reaches impressive heights, not by hitting high notes, but knowing just what he wants to do with it. Yela wrote nearly all the song on the album, with tweaks from producers and All the Time which was co-written with featured artiste Cill.
The Nigerian music industry has rapidly changed. Afrobeats is the new currency, and although Yela has over the years tinkered his sound to reflect the zeitgeist, embracing the codes of Nigerianness in vocal tics and songwriting, it has taken a kind of strong will to not go completely with the crowd.
”I see the light at the end of the long long tunnel now as opposed to years ago when I started my journey as an alternative artist in a music space saturated with “commercial” acts,” Yela says, ”It hasn’t been easy navigating the industry and even today I still feel like an outsider looking in but the difference now is I see my music as a product, so I have to tailor my product to suit the needs of the consumer, without losing my core. I grew up on fusion and experimental music so that element will never go away but now it’s easier for me to dip my feet into Afro pop and I do so with any body of work I put out. It’s the necessary compromise. Also thank God for the alternative acts that are paving the way for music like mine to be heard.”
With Existence Resistance arriving Friday, a 13-track project that mines Yela’s experiences as well as from happenings around him, Yela wants everyone that listens to the album to dream big dreams and know that they can change the status quo for the better. ”It’s all about connecting with the fans,” Yela says, ”I wrote this album for the fans, both old and the new ones I hope to get so I plan in connecting with people who love and hopefully will fall in love with my music.”
When Bernard Dayo isn’t writing about pop culture, he’s watching horror movies, anime and trying to pretend his addiction to Netflix isn’t a serious condition.