I understand before I make a statement as vague, yet damning as this, I need to do some clarification. So here’s a little backstory on the phenomenon that is Yemi Alade.
Sometime in 2005, Alade, still a student of the University of Lagos studying Geography, joined the girl band, the Noty Spices and tried to break into music. There is very little that has survived that era of Alade’s now red hot career but she picked herself up after the group disbanded and entered for the inaugural edition of the Peak Talent hunt in 2009, a competition she went on to win convincingly. With the win came fame, fans and a record label, but still not the Yemi Alade we know today.
The product that we currently know as Yemi Alade was born in 2012 when she left her first label Jus’ Kiddin and signed with Effyzie Music Entertainment, her present management. But even then, the brand had a few false starts. At the time, Tiwa Savage had just come blazing forth into the industry with her catchy Kele Kele Love, effectively spawning the new generation of power pop starlets that now crowd the music industry. Team Effyzie saw the Tiwa Savage model work like a dream, and decided to replicate it for themselves.
In a few short months, their pop princess was ready, complete with a first single, Ghen Ghen Love. If you watch the video for the song you’ll quickly realise Alade was not so carefully marketed as an equal parts Rihanna/Beyonce clone.
She had Beyonce’s signature blonde weave, but she also had Rihanna’s signature pompadour pixie cut and shaved sides from her Good Girl Gone Bad era. Her video for Ghen Ghen love took iconic scenes from Beyonce’s music videos (Crazy in Love, Deja Vu and Upgrade you) and stitched them into a serviceable replicant. Most people gave it a cursory glance and quickly got bored. Why settle for a copy when the original is so much better?
For her second video from the Ghen-Ghen Love era Bamboo, they decided on a total image revamp. Gone was crazy ‘Beyonce’ mini-me, in her place was a vintage wearing, ballad crooning ‘soft’ songbird. A lot of people sat up, but the tide had already shifted. We were just seeing the first strains of the afro-pop explosion that would soon engulf the industry. Omawumi reigned supreme with Bottom Belle, Tiwa Savage had Love me 3x. Niyola, Waje and Chidinma were all coming into their own with dancey pop songs. There just wasn’t any place for ballads. So that version of Yemi was shelved and Effyzie went back to the drawing board fast.
In October 2013, a new Yemi Alade emerged.
This one was angrier, defiant. No longer was Yemi Aladw ‘Crazy in love’ or crooning ballads in a bamboo sauna. No, this one wore ankara playsuits and had her hair in a braid and sang about scorned love. The reception was precedented. The video (for Johnny) which they cobbled together nearly six months later is likely Yemi Alade’s lowest budget video, Bamboo and Ghen Ghen love obviously cost much more money. But it worked to her advantage. The Yemi Alade people saw on their screens was one who they could have passed on their street. She became our version of the girl next door.
Having found a formula, the singles and videos followed quickly, all did well, but nothing yet has quite surpassed the reach and popularity of Johnny.
But Effyzie did one thing right. They were one of the first new wave labels to truly look outside Nigeria. Yemi Alade released both French and Swahili versions of her more successful singles, cornering the East African and Francophone markets who have longed to immerse themselves in the afrobeat craze but were severely hindered by language barriers. Suddenly Effyzie had a transcontinental star and no new music to promote. That mix of pressure and opportunity makes for costly mistakes.
Before long there was talk of a new album, one that was a true successor to King of Queens, Alade’s trifling debut album.
The sophomore curse is no old wives tale. In a bid to outdo the success of a stellar debut album, talented musicians many a times, botch their second outing. When Alade quietly released her cover art, and track list, the album was originally called ‘Mama Africa’, but when rumours and grumblings turned malignant, a rejoinder was added, ‘The Diary of an African woman’.
Now here’s the thing, Mama Africa is a term that is (not was) is used to describe Miriam Makeba. Makeba’s lengthy career and her continuous activism and philanthropy, as well as her music, as timeless as it is political, earned her that title. For Yemi Alade to make a grab for the title 8 years after Makeba’s death, especially with an album filled with platitudes to materialism, is quite premature.
Any hope that the music would validate her claim, or throw up something to argue her case with, proved misplaced as aside from a few watery collaborations with musicians from East and South Africa, and songs in other languages, there was literally nothing that required her to dress in traditional MaXhosa jewellery (worn out of context we might add,) while making a claim to represent all of Africa.
We were perfectly fine with Yemi Alade being Africa’s number one female afropop star, we didn’t ask her to do anymore.
Here is the thing, this era will pass, and Effyzie will feel the need to make the Yemi Alade brand change to work with whatever trends are driving musically. But this album and the colossal misstep it represents will always remain part of her catalogue. And mistakes this big survive labels, and indefinitely taint careers.