Album Review: Jaywon Is King on Oba Orin but of What Exactly?

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The artiste known as Jaywon, previously signed to Kennis Music, now boss of his own Next World Music, despite scoring a massive hit in 2012 with the prophetic This Year has always flown slightly below the radar. You know his name, you know his song(s), you probably know his face, but you are likely to name at least a dozen of his colleagues before coming round to him whenever programming a list of relevant artistes.

Jaywon seems to be aware of this and tries to alter this narrative. He does so in typical Nigerian fashion by reaching for exaggeration. For his third studio album and first since leaving Kennis Music’s (in)famous revolving doors, Jaywon brands himself,- and his disc,- Oba Orin, Yoruba for King of music. It is an ambitious title, but the music contained within makes a pretty convincing argument.

Jaywon has one of the most recognisable voices in the industry. His husky, gravelly baritone is able to dismantle complicated Fuji arrangements just as quickly as it can be adapted to contemporary pop ditties. Oba Orin is like a big compendium of sound, one in which Jaywon tries everything and becomes master of none. But who cares about specialization when he approaches each fresh sound with enough respect to put up winning performances?

A promising team of bright young producers (Mr Ejor, Benjossy, Black Jersey) are responsible for the sound of Oba Orin and each one discharges themselves credibly. The wicked one himself, Young John is the biggest name here and his entries are both cheesy (Kule Lori, FOG) and predictably danceable (Gbawo).

The disc opens with a trumpeting intro that whets the appetite for more to come. Then a big banging beat ushers in the crowd pleasing song for mama, PFM(Mama) instantly relatable by anyone fortunate enough to enjoy the love of a mother. Mode 9 strolls by for a capable verse and a remix is tucked in somewhere where Jaywon is assisted by singer Sojay and his label mates/protegees Kefchild and FMG.

Back to sender (with Vector) is a throwback number for those who feel that there is nothing worth listening to in pop music anymore. With his arresting voice dishing out life lessons backed by a live band and instrumentation, Jaywon reveals his influences (King Sunny Ade, Sir Ebenezer Obey). Indeed, the album for the most part is ready to be performed with the full complement of a live band. So Fun Won is a light on its feet gem that you cannot wait to rock out to at the next Owambe party you will be attending. Ditto the loveable Show Me (Bami Tale) and the 9ice assisted Jolly Muke.

Speaking of, 9ice who predated Jaywon with this style of mixing contemporary trends with indigenous sounds only seems to come alive these days when invited as a guest act. Put him in a record all by himself and he is just unable to find his feet. Which is a shame as Oba Orin is exactly the kind of record 9ice used to be pro at making back in the day. Singing in both Yoruba and English, lyrics that are easy enough to mouth along to yet, interesting enough to rise above the generic, Jaywon may well be positioning himself to continue in 9ice’s footsteps.

Tracks like Okun United (with Kefchild) and Paraga (with Obesere, Small Doctor) are unpretentious delights that hearken unashamedly to the streets, yet in Jaywon’s capable hands, manage to elicit some crossover pull. These kinds of records are what makes Oba Orin shine the most.

This purity serves him better than on obvious compromises like My Way that sounds like it was recorded the same day Tiwa Savage sent in her vocals for Sean Tizzle’s Igi Orombo. Miss Savage’s label mate Reekado Banks fares better though on the similarly crafted Gbadun which is sure to be serviced to mainstream radio.

Just in case Jaywon’s vocal prowess is still in doubt, he pulls out a show stopper on Back home, a power ballad assisted by soft piano strings and stellar back- up vocals. The Stormrex assisted Give me should be merely cross market bait to reel in the Igbo speaking crowd but the knotty yet winning structure makes it sit right at home on the record.

Oba Orin is a fine collection of sounds that reflects Jaywon’s superior talent and the state of pop music. It is rich, live, refreshing, timely and timeless all at once. Occasionally bewildering, it could have been arranged better and the lengthy track listing cut to a more responsible length.

Jaywon may make a bold claim but none can say he doesn’t work for it every step of the way. Only time will tell if he has indeed earned the title.

–– Wilfred Okiche (@DrWill20)

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